Snape has been informed: his time is to be wasted, his skills squandered on people whom Dumbledore has declined to explain, their value indeterminate. ‘Important to the war effort,’ the man claims, which in his mind may mean they hold key positions in the sweet-making industry.
This is worse than Snape imagined, however, this inexplicable pale personage wearing leather and sneer, this tiny woman dressed in shades of blond and pink and sun.
“They’re muggles?” he asks Pomfrey, incredulous. Dumbledore cannot mean him to work with these people.
“A Mug-a-what now?” says the woman.
It’s worse yet, he realizes: Americans.
The male isn’t American, it transpires, though what bizarre accent he has, Snape can’t begin to guess. He’s also demonstrably (un)dead, and he wishes to father a child with the woman, whose name – Buffy – has confirmed Snape’s worst suspicions of America.
“I am not a mediwizard!” Snape snaps again.
Pomfrey remains obdurate. “Conveniently, however, I’m a mediwitch. So we read the texts, study the data” – collected from the uncooperative vampire, whose feelings about Pomfrey’s procedures sensibly match Snape’s – “and then we’ll know something.”
“There is no precedent!”
“Find one.” She shrugs. “Or we’ll make our own.”
Oh, that bodes well.
Infuriatingly, Pomfrey is correct: an anecdote buried in Hymenaea’s Encyclopaedia of Reproductive Magic, details vague but inferable.
“A ritual,” he explains to Buffy; Spike hangs lurkabout behind her, muttering darkly. “Simple for any wizard of skill” – fortunate indeed that they have Snape – “but the timing doesn’t favor you.”
“What about it?” she snaps.
“The next appropriate moon waxes in two weeks. Too soon. The following is in three years.”
“Three years?” She inhales; dismay vanishes. “Two weeks. We can do that. I’ve stopped apocalypses in less.”
In his ear, chillingly, “Give the lady what she wants, yeah?”
They stand now, encircled: vampire; woman; the wizard to bind and link. Pomfrey observes. In the center stands the cauldron; in the potion are vampire’s semen, woman’s blood, wizard’s hair. Snape is confident of the conception, but of little else. “If anything goes wrong, we’ll heal,” Buffy had promised. He’d seen the evidence of it, but did she think he wanted the smirch of failure?
Nonetheless: three hands crossed above the cauldron, wand lifted, words of power heavy and full on Snape’s tongue. Magic flows.
The vampire breaks the linkage, snarls in pain, falls.
Snape told them it wasn’t ready.
The vampire lies motionless, deathly pale – yes, absurdly, that is paler than usual – while Buffy, almost as white, sits holding his hand. Snape waits on the next bed over – Dumbledore’s orders. Pomfrey strides the infirmary and mutters. Diagnostic spells spark from her wand.
“Ah,” she says finally. “It isn’t so bad, but you won’t like it.”
“Pregnant?” Buffy echoes after her, disbelieving. “Spike is?”
“It gets better,” Pomfrey says, in the way that means it doesn’t. “The embryo isn’t Spike’s.”
“Not ours? What...”
“Oh, it’s yours, Buffy,” Pomfrey says. Why is the woman grinning? Why at him? “Yours and Snape’s.”
Magic’s sustaining the microscopic child-seed, Pomfrey explains, magic drawing on the vampire’s mystical resources and pulling him unconscious. Rescind the spell, and the magic is released as easily as rotten eggs roll down the staircase of Gryffindor Tower. Simple.
Buffy listens to it all, lips pressed thin, hand still clasped in the vampire’s. “I want to talk to Spike about it,” she says when Pompfrey finishes.
“He’ll not wake up until the spell’s rescinded,” Snape says. “Say the word, and it’s done.” Try again in three years; Dumbledore will have some other patsy by then.
Buffy bows her head, nods.
It’s unexpected, a static shock in reverse: Snape grips Spike’s shoulder in preparation; the vampire gasps awake; there is a sudden hollow lack behind Snape’s collarbone - the seat of magic, the superstitious say.
“What’s happened?” Spike says, blinking.
“Give us a minute?” Buffy asks.
Pomfrey nods. “I’ll need to inspect you later.” She follows Snape into the hallway, still frowning. “You all right?”
Snape rolls his shoulders. “Menace of a spell. Draws on the caster for maintenance.”
“Recoverable?” Pomfrey says, attention already straying; concern for Snape’s wellbeing does not come naturally.
“Barring repetition, I expect to live,” Snape says.
It’s gone wrong, he sees next day. The end-it-now, try-again-later plan has gone wrong. He walks into the infirmary and sees it in their faces, in the way Buffy clings to Spike’s hand.
“You can’t be serious,” he says before Buffy’s even spoken.
“We want to keep it,” she says. “It’s our baby – or half ours, or whatever. The doctor said it’s possible. Isn’t it?”
“It’s idiotic,” Snape says.
“We might not get another chance.”
“In three years—”
“Might not be here then, is what she’s saying,” Spike said. “Hear there’s a war brewing?”
“We’re keeping it,” Buffy repeated.
“You can’t maintain the pregnancy,” he tells Spike. “For one thing, you’re dead.”
“And you’re a wizard.”
“The doctor said—” Buffy begins.
Where is Pomfrey? “You’d need magic,” Snape says. “A significant supply at regular intervals. I believe Flooing is discouraged; you’d likely need to remain here for the duration, preferably sheltered away from errant spell attempts. Discomfort is to be expected, the more so because you are neither female nor living.”
“She said you could help us,” Buffy says. “With the magic.”
“On account of you casting the spell,” Spike added.
“She said it had to be yours.”
“I will not expend my entire magical reserve on this ridiculous enterprise,” Snape says.
“Maybe Willow...” Spike suggests softly.
Buffy brushes the words aside. “You said you would help us.”
“I was instructed to help you conceive a child. I did so, not, I note, without protest. I shall now return to my dungeons, where I will brew potions in peace. Good day.”
“It’s yours, too,” Buffy says. “Half.”
“All the more reason to rid the world of it,” he snaps and turns to leave.
“Dumbledore,” Buffy says behind him. “He told you to help us. He’ll tell you again.”
At day’s end he’s called to the infirmary again; Spike has been fading. He lies there, silent, looking hardly happier to need this intervention than Snape is giving it. Snape stands at the bed’s foot, Spike suspiciously eyeing his wand, and casts a regenerative spell. It hangs at the end of his wand like a globule of molten lead and sizzles away.
He tries again. Nothing but a fizzle.
“Perhaps touch is necessary,” Pomfrey says.
Spike meets his eyes and shrugs. “Whatever it takes,” he says.
“Of all...” Snape strides closer and brushes Spike’s shoulder.
Pomfrey’s right, curse her.
Eight days after the conception, Snape catches sight of Dumbledore’s visitor and realizes what this is all about. It’s about her: slight and red-headed and crackling with power. She shifts the ambient magic with every flick of her fingertips, no wand in sight, no word spoken. She’s clearly feral; Snape’s never known one a tenth so strong.
And her loyalties, it seems, belong to the insolent American and her vampire.
Snape knows politics when he sees them. After a moment’s quiet fuming – curse Dumbledore’s passion for intrigue – Snape returns to the dungeons to look up strengthening potions.
Nine months. Merlin.
It becomes something like routine. Morning and after dinner, Spike appears in Snape’s chambers and waits. Sometimes Snape lingers over his researches merely to provoke the vampire; he gives it up when he realizes Spike standing about, jabbering inanities and pawing fragile magical sundries, is more provoking to Snape than to Spike.
Eventually, however, he and Spike sit in chairs arranged, side by side, for the purpose. With a brush of his hand against cool skin Snape feels the sizzle of magic escaping him and the trembling emptiness after. Spike inhales, nods, a glimpse of gratitude visible and then gone.
It’s worse when Buffy’s away putting out some fire or other, because then, after hours, Spike settles near Snape and stays. He counts his latest symptoms on his fingers: the afternoon fatigue; the nausea; half a dozen others, more colorful, Snape is certain are fabricated.
Finally, patience long worn out, Snape says, “Considering it’s far simpler that Buffy carry another man’s child than that you carry mine, one feels disinclined to sympathize.”
Spike looks away. “There’s reasons it’s convenient, just now, the Slayer’s vampire lover being out of sight for a bit.”
Politics again. For once, Spike’s scowl matches Snape’s.
Snape didn’t expect to be asked, and if he did, he wouldn’t have expected Buffy to do the asking.
“Isn’t there a family name you’d want? Your mom, or... you?”
He considers it. There’d be a certain fitting vengeance for this whole debacle, demanding the child – raised Muggle, no less – be saddled with his name.
“It is... yours,” Buffy adds, uncertain.
“Ridiculous,” Snape says, and that’s that.
Later Spike tells him, off-handedly, they’ll name it William if it’s a boy. Later still, Snape learns Spike’s given name; it seems Spike understands, as Snape does, whose child the fetus really is.
Spike is showing now and complaining to anyone who will listen, students and faculty alike. The women ‘tsk’ and pat him and suggest potions to settle the stomach, and the students all stare at him in a sort of fascinated horror. Shouldn’t be allowed near a cauldron, cherishing that much ignorance. As if a pregnant male were even noteworthy; it’s the vampire issue giving Pomfrey difficulties.
Spike basks in the attention, even while sneaking a grin in Snape’s direction every so often – to see Snape scowl, Snape suspects.
Snape, for his part, ensures that Spike’s medical potions taste sufficiently medicinal.
The child is female, Pomfrey says. Spike is jubilant, euphoric, fidgeting about the room as he lists all the ways he means to corrupt her.
“Hold still,” Snape chides, and grips Spike’s wrist. The brief contact, skin to skin, brings the same old wearying shock. Afterwards, Snape removes his hand and pinches the bridge of his nose against incipient headache and incipient thoughts both.
Harder to think of it as a thing, now; less an ‘it’ than a ‘she;’ no longer comfortingly hypothetical. “Let us hope she takes after her mother in appearance.”
Spike barks a startled laugh of agreement.
Spike’s silhouette is distorted, preposterous, obscene. He complains less now – the attention, perhaps, no longer welcome – but is rarely other than irritable. Also rarely other than in Snape’s dungeons, cooler than elsewhere in this summer heat and less populated. Spike’s finally learned not to touch the paraphernalia; he restricts himself to texts borrowed from the Muggle Studies class, which he chortles and swears over in equal measure. Sometimes he reads choice bits aloud. Other times he talks about the child, his and Buffy’s dreams for her, almost as if Snape had some part in them.
Only weeks to go now.
A student comes for Snape during dinner. Snape finds Spike already at the infirmary, Pomfrey attending, Buffy at his side, his face contorted with the pain of a body signaling the necessity of birth yet lacking any ability to follow through. Still, his eyes flutter open as Snape approaches. “You did this to me,” he says, smirking feebly.
“He’ll need continous contact,” Pomfrey says. Before Snape can move Spike has grabbed his hand hard enough to pinch, his eyes squeezed shut again. Across the bed, Spike’s other hand in hers, Buffy smiles shakily at Snape as Pomfrey begins to chant.
Spike is crying. Buffy is crying. Pomfrey, silly woman, is apologizing for being ‘a bit misty.’
Snape is not crying. He’s eyeing this child that is his daughter in some meaningless biological sense and Spike’s – not to mention Buffy’s – in every sense that matters. She is wailing, blotchy, and unattractive.
“Hold her?” Buffy says.
“Certainly not,” Snape says, appalled. But already Buffy is pressing her into his arms, arranging them to her satisfaction.
Snape stares down at the alien creature whose existence he is somehow responsible for, and thinks he could do worse things for the war effort than this.