"Not every single toy needs to be educational!"
"You'd have our son raised a halfwit."
"Our son isn't even born yet, and already you want to make sure he's a member of MENSA."
Severus rolled his eyes and chucked the catalogue down on the breakfast bar, glaring at the back of his husband's head as he shuffled around the kitchen fixing lunch and making a pot of tea.
"He can have the more educational stuff when he's a toddler, but for a newborn baby we want to just focus on sensory things. The toys I've marked in the catalogue are great, and they come highly recommended by all the child development experts."
Harry levitated all the lunch things over to the breakfast bar and sat across from Severus, pouring them both a cup of tea, leaving Severus' black and adding milk and sugar to his own.
They were both nervous, Caleb's arrival was imminent, and any day could be the one they received news from Beth that she had gone into labour. Harry had directed all his attentions to making sure the nursery was absolutely perfect and had changed the colour of the walls five times in the last three days. They were currently a warm custard colour, but Harry had yet to decide whether he actually liked it and Severus was fully expecting him to change it several more times before Caleb's arrival.
Both men were still living in faint disbelief that it was happening, that their firstborn son, whom they had spent many hours talking about, was now on his way. When the process had started they had embarked upon it with a certain amount of reverence, and it had taken them a long time to finally decide that Beth was the right woman to carry the child who, despite not yet existing, they already felt they knew.
The idea had first been mooted that perhaps Beth would move to the estate and live with them; Harry had been anxious to keep her close, wanting to spend as much time with his son as physically possible. However, understandably, Beth had wanted to remain close to her family, relying on her mother for help and advice, especially as her due date neared. She was a frequent visitor to the estate though, and Harry and Severus had been present at all the scans and had attended all the ante-natal classes with her.
She was a sensible and practical woman, whose intelligence appealed to Severus and whose warmth appealed to Harry. While it was true that Caleb would be made entirely of Severus and Harry and Beth was simply there to carry him to term, it was important to both men that they felt a connection with her and that she was the right person to bring their son into the world.
"To be honest," said Severus as Harry began slicing the bread, "I think we have more than enough toys for now. The nursery's full to bursting, he won't even play with them for the first few weeks. He'll be too busy screaming his lungs out and keeping us awake."
Harry grinned. "We might get lucky and get one of those babies that sleep for seven hours straight and only cries once a day."
Severus smirked and said, "It's my understanding that those sorts of babies are extremely rare."
"Well, if he inherits your temperament I'm expecting him to be a cantankerous little bugger," Harry said, eating a healthy mouthful of his soup and pretending that he couldn't see the glare his husband was sending his way.
There was silence for a moment as both men made a good dent in their lunch. Harry sipped at his tea then released a wistful sigh and looked up at Severus, saying, "I can't believe he's nearly here. It feels like we've been waiting for him for so long and now…"
Severus reached across the bar and took hold of Harry's hand, gifting him with a warm smile as he said, "I can hardly believe it myself."
"Are we ready, do you think?" Harry asked, his stomach fluttering with nerves as it had done ever since Beth had neared her due date.
"I'm not sure any parent is ever ready," Severus replied, continuing to hold Harry's hand gently. "But we've had longer than most to plan this moment."
"Oh God I hope we don't mess it all up. We'll be good parents, won't we?" Harry asked earnestly, and Severus gave his hand a squeeze.
"We'll do the best we can, my love, but I don't doubt we'll make mistakes along the way. The important thing is that we'll do it together."
Harry smiled and hopped down from his stool, walking around the breakfast bar to wrap himself around his husband. He felt Severus' mind nudge along the edge of senses, soothing and calming him.
He was always aware of his husband's mind and magic riding alongside his own, they hadn't existed as two separate entities since they had joined their magic to defeat Voldemort, but it was when he was upset or agitated that he noticed it most.
"What have you got planned this afternoon?" Harry asked, pulling back slightly, a grin playing about his lips.
"Why?" Severus asked, running his hands up and down Harry's sides.
"Well…I was thinking that we could take advantage of a nice, empty house and neither of us being busy at the moment," Harry said, leaning forward to pepper kisses along Severus' jaw.
"You're insatiable," Severus told him, but pulled him closer nevertheless.
"Mm I know," Harry murmured, letting his hands wander to the buttons on Severus' shirt. Severus' lips went to his throat and Harry triumphed over the first few buttons, letting his hand slip beneath the fabric and tease over the soft skin of Severus' chest. He was about to properly divest the man of his shirt when suddenly a loud alarm rang out and a clipped woman's voice said,
"Attention! Labour has begun, please make your way to St Mungo's. Attention! Labour has begun, please make your way to St Mungo's."
Harry pulled back and looked at Severus with wide eyes. "The alarm we set up! Oh my God, Beth's in labour, Caleb's on his way!"
"Calm down," Severus said, grabbing Harry's wrists and stopping him from flying into a frenzy. "Beth agreed she'd set off the alarm when her waters broke, so we've got ample time. Just take a moment to take a breath and then we'll be on our way."
Harry nodded taking a succession of short, frantic breaths before Severus raised a remonstrative eyebrow and he did his best to slow them. Their son was about to make his arrival into the world and although Harry had dreamt of this moment ever since he had first seen Caleb in the vision he had been shown, now that it was really happening, he could help but feel overwhelmed.
"We're going to meet him Sev, we're going to meet our son," he whispered, and Severus pulled him forward to place a soft kiss to his lips before he wrapped his arms around him and apparated them both to the hospital.
Beth was in a private room and seemed to be taking everything in her stride. Her contractions were getting closer together and the midwife seemed pleased with her progress.
"Can we get you anything?" Harry asked, taking hold of her hand while Severus looked through her medical file, giving off his usual air of authority.
"A large G&T would be wonderful right about now," Beth replied, a thin layer of sweat forming on her brow as her face reddened.
"I promise you, a lifetime's supply of G&Ts await you when all this is done," Harry said.
"I'll hold you to that," Beth said with a laugh, grimacing straight after as another contraction hit her.
They were allowed to stay for a little while longer until it became apparent she was going to start pushing. At that point, the midwife ushered them both out, saying that while she appreciated the child was theirs, neither or them was Beth's partner and that the woman was entitled to some privacy while she brought their child into the world.
They moved out into the corridor, each man as nervous as the other. Severus took a seat in one of the hideous plastic chairs while Harry paced up and down, fully aware that he was creating a perfectly stereotypical picture. Severus was aware as well, and snidely asked him if he was planning on handing out cigars to other expectant fathers.
"Now is not the time to wind me up," Harry said with a growl, wondering if it was actually possible to wear away the pattern on the floor.
"Pacing up and down won't solve anything, you'll make yourself dizzy."
"We've been out here for ages! Do you think something's gone wrong? Surely they should have told us something by now, what if – "
Severus rose from his seat and gently placed his hands either side of Harry's face, saying, "Everything will be fine. You can't hurry these things, and Beth is in the best possible hands. You need to try and stay calm, any minute now you're going to be meeting our son for the first time and he won't thank you if you're a nervous wreck."
Harry nodded and took a couple of deep breaths. "You're right, I know you're right, it's just…bloody hell this is the biggest moment of our lives! Defeating Voldemort was nothing compared to this!"
Severus gave a soft laugh and brushed his thumb over Harry's cheekbone in a gesture that was so beautifully familiar to Harry. "We'll deal with this the way we dealt with that – together, an unbeatable force," Severus said, and Harry grinned in response.
"You're right," he said softly, "there's nothing we can't face."
It was just as well that Harry had determined that to be the case, for a few moments later the midwife popped her head round the door and said with a warm smile,
"Gentlemen, would you two like to come and meet your son?"
Harry's stomach turned a hundred somersaults and he felt as though the floor had been pulled out from beneath him. He felt elated and terrified all at once, and he was grateful for Severus' hand on the small of his back, anchoring him gently to reality.
They walked back into the delivery room and Beth was lying back in bed, looking utterly exhausted but smiling broadly at the two of them.
"Beth, you amazing, wonderful woman!" Harry said, taking her hand and holding it tightly. "I can't begin to thank you, we're so grateful, you have no idea, this is just – "
His rambling speech was interrupted by a loud cry from the corner of the room and he looked over to see the nurse wrapping Caleb in a blanket, bringing him forward to the two of them.
"Oh my God," he whispered, taking in the first sight of his son. The nurse brought him closer and Harry held out his arms, taking great care as Caleb was transferred over to him.
He shifted the little bundle until Caleb nestled softly into the crook of his arm, his eyes looking unfocusedly up at his father. Harry's breathing was shaky as he looked down at him, taking in the fine smattering of black hair, pale skin and tiny little rosebud mouth. He knew what this tiny baby would grow in to, knew the strapping teenager on the cusp on manhood that he would become, but in that moment, all he could see was the baby in his arms that was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.
He had heard people speak about not really understanding love until their first child was placed in their arms, and in that moment, he finally understood what they meant. He had never felt the rush of sensation that welled up in his chest, the sudden sense of fierce protectiveness that surged through his veins, the all-encompassing, unequivocal love that he felt for this brand new life, one that he felt had always been with him.
"Might I be permitted to hold our son?" came Severus voice close to his ear and he was shaken from his trance, looking up at his husband with watery eyes and a bright smile.
"Sorry, got a bit carried away," he said, carefully transferring the precious bundle to Severus' arms.
He stood back and looked from his husband to his son, a feeling of wonder settling over him. He had admitted it to no one, not even Ron, but there had been a small part of him that had worried that having children was still something that Severus hadn't been one hundred percent sure about. He had worried that it was something Severus was going along with just to please him, to keep him happy, and although he hadn't sensed any of that in his husband's mind, he couldn't help but let it creep in his mind.
He had had concerns that perhaps Severus would struggle to bond with Caleb, or that he would be held back by his own fears, but as Harry stood in the hospital room watching as Severus looked down at their son, he knew that his worries were unfounded. He had never seen his husband with such an unguarded expression, even when he looked at him, and he felt his breath catch in his throat as he saw the pure and unfettered look of love in Severus' eyes as he drank in every detail of the baby in his arms.
Severus looked up at him and Harry felt as though everything had shifted, something had changed and from that moment on nothing would be the same again. They were now parents, they were responsible for a whole new person, a life that they had chosen to bring into the world.
"I love you," Harry said through their link, and he felt Severus' feelings of joy and wonder spill over, mingling with his own.
"No more than I love you," Severus replied. "And I'm willing to argue with you over who loves our son more."
"We'll be here all day then," Harry said, "because I've never loved anything or anyone the way I love him."
The next hour or so passed by in a blur. They sat with Beth, thanking her profusely until she instructed them to stop. She had several cuddles with Caleb, thrilled to finally meet the baby she had carried for nine months, whispering soft endearments and promising that she was going to spoil him rotten.
It had already been decided that Beth would be welcome in their home as often as she wanted, and she was keen to come and visit and see the baby's progress. Severus knew that Harry was already plotting to ask her, after an appropriate time, if she would consent to carry Benji as well. They had had such a good experience using her as a surrogate that Harry wouldn't have wanted to trust anyone else.
The midwife came to talk to them, running through all the things they needed to know and telling them that the Health Visitor would be out to see them in the next couple of weeks to check on the baby's progress and to answer any questions they might have. She told them that the birth had been fine, Caleb was a healthy weight at 8lb6oz and there were no issues that they needed to worry about.
Finally, when everything had been settled and they had made Beth promise to come and visit as soon as she had recovered, they were allowed to take Caleb home. They arrived back at the estate a little before 9 o'clock at night and took their little bundle straight up to the nursery.
Severus fired a quick letter off to Ron and Draco and told them that their godson had arrived and that they expected them at the estate the next day to welcome him into the family. After, he and Harry sat in the twin armchairs in front of Caleb's cot, their hands intertwined as they looked at their son.
He had been a bit fussy and had taken some time to settle, but he seemed content as he lay in his cot, emitting a few snuffling noises and occasionally kicking his tiny legs as he slept.
Severus and Harry were still riding high on adrenaline, and the enormity of the day's events was still thundering through their systems. Both men seemed to be operating on autopilot, shocked by the reality that their son was now with them. Harry had no doubt that they were in for a hell of a ride, but he couldn't think of anyone he would rather share it with than Severus.
Until he became a parent, Harry thought he knew what being tired felt like. He had gone without sleep before, had spent many a cold and lonely night lying awake worrying about things, plagued by nightmares that rendered sleep impossible, but all of that paled in significance next to how completely shattered he was as the father of a newborn baby.
He was sure he was turning into a zombie. Caleb didn't agree with sleeping during the night, and he wasn't too fond of sleeping for more than an hour during the day either. If one more person told Harry 'sleep when the baby sleeps, you'll soon get the rest you need', he was going to blow himself up.
His nerves were torn to shreds and felt as though he was existing in a fog. Ron had visited a few days prior and he had accidentally made him a drink without boiling the kettle, presenting his friend with a stone-cold cup of coffee. He had reacted to it by bursting into tears, much to Ron's consternation, and Severus had had to apologise for him while he locked himself in the bathroom and had a good cry.
He was convinced that he was doing everything wrong and that at some point the authorities would come and take his son away from him. The rational part of his brain told him that his son was healthy and happy, and was simply behaving like a normal baby, but the frenzied part of his brain was drowning such reasonable thoughts out.
"Go and get some sleep, I've got him for an hour to two," Severus said as he tested Caleb's bottle, squirting a couple of drops onto his forearm to check the temperature.
"I'm too exhausted to sleep," Harry said as Caleb continued to wail in his arms. "Come on sweetheart, just stop for a little while, you'll wear your lungs out."
Severus moved over and took him from Harry, hoisting him up onto his shoulder and rubbing his back as he jostled him gently. It did little to soothe him and although Harry didn't want his son to be in distress, he couldn't help but be thankful that it wasn't just him, that Severus had no more joy in stopping him from crying than he did.
"You're worse than a mandrake," Severus told him sternly as he continued to fuss. "We're going to have to stop this nonsense soon, it's not acceptable."
"I don't think speaking to him as though he's an errant schoolchild is going to help, love," Harry said, rolling his eyes, and regretting the action as they felt like sandpaper.
"Well your techniques seem to be having little success either, don't they?" Severus returned, leaving the kitchen to go and sit in the living room where he could sit more comfortably to give Caleb his bottle.
Harry stuck his tongue out at the man's retreating form, then buried his head in his hands and closed his eyes for a blissful moment. He tried to think whether or not he had eaten that day and found he couldn't remember the last meal he had actually sat down and finished. He only knew that he had had shower within the last twenty-four hours because he remembered having to take Caleb in with him, the water fascinating him long enough to stop him crying for a good ten minutes.
He was trying to work up the energy to get down from his stool and put the kettle on when the front doorbell rang loudly, jarring his already frazzled nerves. He sighed and made his way out of the kitchen, down the long corridor to the front door. If it was Jehovah's Witnesses he might well join them.
"Molly," he said in surprise as he opened the door to find her standing there with a broad smile and a large bag on her shoulder. "How lovely to see you, please come in."
He stood aside to let her in and she swept him up in a patented Weasley hug, releasing him to say, "I thought I'd come and see my grandson, and see how the two of you are getting on."
Harry beamed at her use of the word 'grandson', and suddenly felt a rush of sincere affection for the woman who had shown him what having a mother could be like. He showed her into the living room, and Severus looked up from feeding Caleb, offering her a tired smile as she took a seat on the sofa.
"Is he still not eating?" Harry asked, taking in the sight of the bottle that still looked mostly full.
"He doesn't seem interested," said Severus, shaking his head, taking the bottle from his son's lips and holding it up to see how little had gone down.
"Maybe we need to see the Health Visitor again, if he's losing weight…"
"All babies lose a little weight after they're born Harry, it's perfectly natural. He'll eat when he's hungry. Now come on, let's have a cuddle," she said, and her air of practicality and confidence made Harry feel as though perhaps the situation wasn't as dire as he imagined.
Severus handed Caleb over to her and she tucked him into her arm with the ease of a woman who had spent her life with children. He soon began to fuss again, but Molly simply carried on as though nothing was amiss, picking up the large bag she had brought and moving off into the kitchen.
She said nothing, but Severus and Harry felt as though they were meant to follow and so they did, to find she had the freezer open and was loading it with Tupperware full of food. She moved so effortlessly with a screaming baby and her stride wasn't broken once as she continued to stock the freezer, seemingly not bothered in the slightest by the crying baby.
Severus and Harry stood watching, both not entirely sure what was happening, but too tired to question it. Molly finished loading the freezer with everything she had brought with her, then turned to face them, saying over Caleb's screams,
"There we go, that's dinner sorted for the next seven nights. Everything's labelled, so just choose what you fancy and heat it with your wand. Now, you both look shattered, why don't you both go upstairs and get some sleep for a few hours while I watch over this little one?"
"Molly, we couldn't possibly ask you – " Severus began, but Molly cut him off, saying,
"He's my grandchild Severus, it's no imposition. Now, neither of you will be any use if you're dead on your feet and if I can help enough to let you get a few hours sleep, well, it's the least I can do. Go on, up the stairs with both of you, Caleb's in good hands."
Harry felt as though he should have protested, surely he couldn't just go upstairs and have a nap while his best friend's mother looked after his son? It seemed though, that his feet were already moving, and he found himself standing in his bedroom, Severus by his side, each wondering if perhaps Molly had used magic to get them up there.
They were soon to realise that Molly possessed magic beyond anything they could have imagined. Both men slept for the rest of the afternoon and woke feeling better than they had done since they had brought Caleb home from the hospital. They descended the stairs in a slight haze, wondering what felt wrong until they both came to the realisation that there was no noise of crying ringing through the house.
Harry was convinced that Molly had spirited Caleb back to the Burrow when they entered the living room to find Molly sitting in one of the armchairs, knitting away merrily while Caleb dozed softly in his Moses basket.
"What did you do?" Harry asked, his voice conveying his wonder.
She smiled up at them both and said, "Little mite had a touch of heartburn. I gave him some bicarbonate of soda with a little warm water and it's done the trick. I also tried him with some goat's milk, it's a little softer on the system than cow's milk and he seemed to enjoy it."
"It was that simple?" Harry asked in disbelief.
"Well, this time around, but the next time he fusses it'll be something different. It's just a question of realising what each little cry means. They've got their own ways of communicating, you'll soon pick it up. Now, I should leave you both in peace, but remember, I'm only a firecall away. I'll call round soon, give you both a chance to catch up on your sleep."
She packed away her knitting and cast one last fond glance down at the sleeping baby before she moved to stand in front of Severus and Harry. "Don't you two forget to eat. Hopefully you'll find something in the freezer that takes your fancy, I've put a shepherd's pie in specially for you Severus, I know it's your favourite," she said with a smile, and before either she or Harry could register what was happening, Severus had moved forward and wrapped her up in a hug.
Harry had never seen anyone look quite so surprised as Molly did as she looked over Severus' shoulder at him. If he hadn't been so tired he might have been able to summon a laugh, but all he could do was blink in disbelief as his husband hugged his honourary mother.
Severus pulled away sharply, two dark spots of red on each cheek, looking as though he had a momentary loss of sanity. He cleared his throat and said, "Well, if you'll excuse me, I should…see about starting dinner."
He left the living room and Harry tried to subdue his grin as he watched his husband go. He turned back to face Molly, who was looking at him with a fond smile, and said,
"Thank you Molly."
"I thought we'd agreed you could call me Mum if you wanted."
"Thank you Mum," Harry said, reminded, not for the first time, how grateful he was to this amazing woman who had always done her best to look after him. "I honestly don't know what we'd have done without you."
"Oh it was nothing. This is what grandmothers are here for, and as that little fella is my first grandchild, I intend to spoil him rotten!" She hoisted her bag onto her shoulder and reached out to lay a gentle hand on his cheek. "Don't you worry about a thing. You'll feel lost and confused for a long time yet, but Caleb's thriving. Just relax a bit and learn to enjoy it, you're doing fine."
Harry hadn't realised how much he had needed to hear that, and he felt a weight lifted from his shoulders. The sleep he had had coupled with the thought of a hearty Molly Weasley meal was enough to bolster him to see him through the next few days, and he felt the gratitude well up inside him until it threatened to overwhelm him.
"I'll see you soon sweetheart, call me if you need anything."
Molly showed herself out and Harry heard the soft pop of apparation a couple of moments after. He moved back into the living room and knelt down beside the Moses basket, smiling at the sleeping form of his son. Molly was right; he needed to learn to enjoy this. Before he knew it, Caleb would be the tall 17-year-old he had seen in the future and he would be wondering where the time had gone and what had happened to this tiny baby.
He intended to savour every moment of his son, and although he knew there would be countless more sleepless nights ahead, he knew he had a mum who would help him over the hurdles and a husband who would support him as they both learnt to find their feet on this wonderful and terrifying new adventure.