"It's too early for big girls to go to bed," announced Mia around a mouthful of biscuit. "Jamie's the baby -- he can go to bed. Tell us again how you convinced Grandpa to go on a date with you."
With a grin, Harry shifted Jamie from one knee to the other, winking over the boy's dark curls. "Only if Grandpa tells you how he bungled the marriage proposal."
"I did not bungle it," Severus protested. "I knew only that your grandfather was a traditionalist about such matters and expected to be given a ring. How was I to know that the ring held a magical artifact?"
"This is why I teach Defense Against the Dark Arts and he teaches Potions," said Harry, grinning again as Severus rolled his eyes. "All right...I'll tell you. Even though you've heard it ten times before."
"It was because of Aunt Lily, right?" Lucy had shortbread crumbs all over her face. Severus reached over to wipe them with a napkin, muffling her next words. "Because Aunt Lily kept making things explode!"
It had long been a point of contention with Lucy that she was not allowed to try to make things explode, but not even her Grandpa Draco would allow that, no matter how much he spoiled her in other ways. "Lily couldn't make things explode when she was a baby," Harry corrected. "But she could make sparks appear."
"And she could vomit clear across a room," put in Severus. All the children burst out laughing, even Jamie, who was likely too young to understand.
Trying to restore order, Severus gave the damp towel a snap, making the crumbs vanish before they could hit the floor. Lucy took another bite of the shortbread, immediately negating his attempt at keeping the crumbs at bay.
"Isn't everything a magical arty-fact?" she pointed out, after she'd mostly swallowed the bite of biscuit.
Severus looked at Harry over her head, then back at the child. "That's very astute for a little girl," he managed.
Harry reached over Jamie's head and ruffled her hair. "That means, smart, love," Harry explained, but Mia was rolling her eyes in a way that unconsciously mimicked Severus's.
"You got Grandpa a boring old ring?" she asked.
Severus was already shaking his head. "Of course not, I knew that such a delicate proposal required an artifact of great magical power, but this was not a ring, it was a stone." He lowered his voice dramatically for the last word, though his pronouncement had less than the effect he had been hoping for.
Lucy nearly dropped her biscuit. "You got Grandpa a rock?"
Harry was laughing into Jamie's hair. "To be fair, it was a gem. A cursed gem, but still," he said in Severus's defense.
"It wasn't cursed by the time I gave it to you."
"I still can't believe you didn't recognize it."
"I hadn't seen it in years, and my attention when I first saw it was on Albus, not on the stone."
"The stone was Daddy's?" interrupted Lucy, examining her own ring, a large red ruby heart that Grandma Astoria had given her.
"Different Albus," Harry explained. "Your father was named after Albus Dumbledore, who was the Headmaster of Hogwarts when Grandpa Severus and I were there."
"You and Grandpa are always talking about old people." Mia wrinkled her nose, reaching for another biscuit. Quickly Severus snatched the plate away, knowing full well that if the children had any more sugar, they would be jumping on the beds for half the night. "It's why I have a stupid name like Euphemia."
"Euphemia was my grandmother's name," Harry protested. "And it's not a stupid name. It means 'good omen' in Greek, or something."
Severus found it curious that his and Harry's children had insisted on giving their own offspring family names, considering that all of them were adopted and not blood relatives of several of those ancestors. But since he and Harry had named the adopted children Lily, Eileen, Emmeline, and Albus, it wasn't as if he had much grounds for objection. "Euphemia is a better name than James," he muttered under his breath.
"Jamie got a normal name. Euphemia is an old name. And Lucy is named after a boy!"
"That's your Grandpa Draco's fault," Harry crowed, getting to his feet to take Jamie to his crib. "You'll have to complain to the Abbies about that." The Abbies were Albus Potter and his wife, probably the only girl ever named Abraxas at birth, though Draco and Astoria had had enough sense to call her Abby, which most people assumed was short for Abigail. Given the history of Abby's name, Harry had felt that he could quarrel only so much when Albus announced that he and Abby planned to name their baby girl after Draco's father.
"And I wanted to hear about the date," Mia whined to Severus as Harry disappeared with Jamie, whose name Severus had been just as unable to prevent. He had successfully convinced Harry not to call any of their own children by the same name as James Potter, yet their daughter felt that if she were named for Harry's mum, then her son should be named for Harry's dad.
"Date?" asked Severus, temporarily distracted when Harry reappeared looking a bit tousled from his nightly tussle with Jamie about who had the right to tell whom to go to bed at what hour. Rumpled Harry always reminded Severus of other, more delightful ways in which one could become rumpled, so he became lost for a moment in a memory involving chocolate sauce and a replenishing potion.
"Grandpa!" wailed Mia, momentarily put off from her intent to rescue the biscuits from the all too easy hiding spot in which Severus had placed them. He turned his face away from Harry and back to the little girl just in time to pluck the shortbread from her fingers. "Keep up," she said, "you promised to tell us about the date!"
"Yeah, Grandpa, keep up," Harry said, fingers dancing briefly in Severus's hair as he passed.
The sultry tone in Harry's voice was not lost on Severus but he ignored it -- for now -- and eyed two of his grandchildren. "I don't believe any promises were made," he said in his lecture voice.
"But you started to tell us," Lucy said, as if such a beginning constituted a promise, "before you got distracted by a dumb old rock."
"It wasn't --" Severus began, but Harry passed over cups of milk for both girls, and he waited for them to wash down bits of biscuit.
"Besides, you want both of us to tell it, don't you?" Harry said, tapping both plastic cups with his wand to refill them. "Since it took both of us to start this little family of ours."
Lucy was the more impulsive one, jumping up and wrapping her arms around Harry. Mia never let her sister do something alone for long, so she slid off the bench and climbed into Severus's lap. "'Course we do," she said, though Severus noticed she still had a bit of biscuit in one grubby fist.
"All right," Harry began. "As you know, your Aunt Lily was a handful as a baby."
"Making things explode," Mia reminded them, trying to sneak the shortbread to her mouth without Severus noticing by pretending that she needed to scratch her nose. He intercepted her hand, but his attempts to pry the remains of the biscuit from her only resulted in more crumbs falling to the floor.
"Making sparks appear. And vomiting clear across the room." Both girls giggled. "Plus she screamed a lot."
"Louder than Jamie?"
"Much louder," confirmed Severus. "Like a Mandrake."
"He's making that up. He hadn't even met her yet when she screamed like that," contradicted Harry. "And I tried every remedy your Great-Grandma Molly suggested, but nothing worked. So I took her to see your grandfather to see whether he knew a potion."
"Grandpa always knows a potion," proclaimed Mia with the same disdain with which she had evaluated family names.
"That's true, and he did, but he told me that I needed to stay and help take care of Lily while he brewed it," Harry told her, half-winking at Severus, who had in fact forced Harry to go take a nap. How well he remembered how tousled and attractive Harry had looked stumbling out of the bedroom. "So I stayed, and had dinner, and he babysat for Lily all night long, and the next day I told Grandpa that we should go out for fish and chips."
"With mushy peas?" Lucy interrupted, wrinkling her nose.
"Only American barbarians eat chips with ketchup," warned Severus.
"There were no peas, just vinegar," Harry reassured her, though Lucy's nose remained wrinkled. "And Lily fell asleep, so we walked in the park for a long time. And quarrelled." This made both girls burst into giggles.
Mia looked very smug at this. "Mummy says you're always quarreling," she reported to her sister who still looked a bit queasy at the idea of ketchup on her chips. "But you always make up. She and daddy always laugh then, but I don't think it's funny to quarrel."
Harry rubbed the back of his neck, searching for an explanation for inexplicable adult behavior. "Grandpa Severus and I don't really quarrel all that much, not really, he's just --" He glanced over to Severus. "Just always --"
"Always right," Severus put in, feeling, at least in this, quite right. Harry was rubbish at quarreling because he was quite easily distracted.
"-- prickly," Harry finished, making a face at Severus.
Affronted, Severus said, "Prickly? I'm not prickly."
Harry made a noise not often heard in nature. "Not...prickly! You are the prickliest git that ever filled out a set of robes," he rebutted, absentmindedly reaching for a biscuit. "You're prickly even from a house that turned out --"
"Careful," Severus growled, eying the girls.
In a low voice Lucy leaned in toward her sister. "Are they quarreling now?" she asked.
After a moment, Mia nodded. "I think so." She looked thoughtful, or at least as thoughtful as a person could look with a ring of crumbs around her mouth. "It is sort of funny, isn't it?"
"Now," said Harry as sternly as Harry ever spoke to the girls, which was to say as sternly as a dreamy fifth-year Hufflepuff under a love potion. "We told you how I convinced him to go on a date. So it's bedtime."
"That wasn't a date, it was fish and chips," protested Mia. "A date means kissing."
Both girls giggled. "And I want to know what the magical arty-fact did," Lucy added.
"After you clean your teeth." At the simultaneous whimpers of protest, Harry added, "Kissing is much improved by Toothflossing Stringmints."
"Did you use them before you kissed Grandpa?"
"He did not." Again both girls giggled, turning to look at Severus. "He didn't even ask permission."
"I was trying to shut him up. He was trying to start another argument," sighed Harry. This brought gales of laughter loud enough to wake Jamie, but of course Harry wasn't finished. "He thought I was too young and was angry because I once told him that his hair was greasy."
"Both true," noted Snape. Actually Harry had tried to keep his opinion of Snape's hair to himself, but Legilimency had revealed many of Harry's secrets. "Now, teeth, or I shall put a silencing spell on all of you and there will be no more discussion of kissing or anything else."
With a sigh, both girls slid to their feet, then promptly burst into motion, racing to see who could reach the loo first.
Once teeth had been cleaned and inspected, both girls hopped into Mia's bed, heaped with pink and purple lace-trimmed pillows that Severus would never admit to purchasing. They shared a room when they stayed over with their grandfathers, though they each had their own bed, even if Lucy's sat abandoned now, guarded by a pair of stuffed hippogriffs and an owl. These were more modest than the accommodations their Malfoy relatives provided, and didn't boast an elf nanny. Yet Severus rather suspected from the amount of time the girls requested to stay with himself and Harry that they were preferred.
More often than not, he had to creep in and levitate Harry from a pile of grandchildren after a particularly vigorous story, though he was not above settling himself at the foot, as he did now, to see what Harry would come up with. "Do you want a story --" Harry began, only to be drowned out by both Mia and Lucy demanding their nighttime ritual. He gave Severus a look that made his emerald eyes sparkle as he slid between two wiggling girls. "What sort of story?" he asked, all innocence.
"Grandpa!" Mia said, nestling against his side. Harry's foot brushed Severus's chest as he stretched out and Severus's hand absently stroked the top of it. "You never finished about the kissing and the arty-fact!"
"The kissing was very nice," said Harry dreamily, smiling at Severus. Both girls giggled, though Mia shook her head. "Oh, you don't want to hear about the kissing?"
"I don't know why adults like kissing so much. One time Daddy burned the bacon because he was kissing Mummy instead of watching it."
"I'm not certain we needed to know that," Severus winced, trying not to picture his own child snogging in the kitchen. "Kissing may become more interesting to you when you get older."
"When I get older, I don't want to kiss, I want to learn Bombarda Maxima," announced Lucy. "Do magical arty-facts make things explode?"
"On rare occasion, yes, but the one Grandpa gave me made me see ghosts." The girls squealed in delight, for in addition to wanting to make things explode, Lucy was eager to hear about the Headless Hunt, though it was forbidden for children under ten to witness their events, since small children tended to have nightmares and wake their parents screaming afterward. Before Lucy could demand details, Harry held up a hand. "Not actual ghosts. True ghosts are the disembodied spirits of witches and wizards who have stayed connected to places that were important to them. These were nearly solid, when I put on the ring that held the artifact."
"Did they talk to you?" demanded Mia.
"They did. They told Grandpa Severus that he had their blessing to marry me."
Harry was talking to the children, one arm around each set of shoulders, heads propped up on lacy pillows. But he was looking at Severus, and he was still smiling dreamily. Both girls in their care sighed, Lucy mostly imitating her sister in expressions of romantic approval.
"Can I talk to them? I've never talked to a real ghost, even a nearly solid one," Mia asked, hand curling around a favorite doll, a dress-up fashion doll currently wearing a witch hat and purple tutu. The doll was enchanted to re-grow hair chopped off by budding fashion stylists
"No, you may not," Severus said, plumping a pillow under his chin as if that settled it.
Both girls cried out in disapproval and Harry shot him an exasperated look. "But why not?" Lucy asked. "Ghosts don't hurt people, not living people I mean, and they only ever scare people sometimes."
Harry chuckled as Mia settled Hilda the fashion doll on his belly as if she had a vote in the ghost discussion. "These weren't real ghosts, I told you, but the spirits of people who --" He thought about it a moment. "People who loved me the way Grandpa Severus and I love you. The magical artifact made them appear and then disappear. They won't come back again."
Harry did not add that this was because he and Severus had buried the Resurrection Stone in the cemetery at Godric's Hollow where Lily and James Potter, as well as several generations of Peverells, also lay at rest. Apparently Harry had learned his lesson about dropping powerful magical artifacts in the woods with the hope that being trampled underfoot would be sufficient to keep them hidden forever.
"Maybe the ghosts will come back if you and Grandpa keep arguing."
Only Lucy could make such a declaration with a wistful smile on her face. It took effort for Severus to keep from snorting. "The ghosts told me that they knew I would always take good care of Harry."
He thought it best not to mention that the specter of Sirius Black had all but added an ...or else. Lily had been smiling at Severus, the ethereal glow produced by the Resurrection Stone giving her an otherworldly beauty as she accepted his promise to give Harry all the love he deserved for as long as he lived, so that he couldn't muster his usual hostility toward the Gryffindor prats. In fact, since that night, he hadn't felt any real antagonism toward his long-ago schoolmates, although that had not stopped him from rolling his eyes when his own daughter had divulged her plan to call her son by James Potter's name.
"We'll see ghosts when we go to Hogwarts," Mia assured her sister, in a tone that suggested she might as well have been saying in a hundred years.
"I might not want to go to Hogwarts," objected Lucy. "I may want to go to Beauxbatons and ride in a coach pulled by flying horses, like Cinderella."
"Cinderella's coach was pulled by mice that had been Transfigured into horses," Harry said, but Lucy ignored him.
"I want to ride in a coach and have a godmother who makes me glass slippers." A yawn interrupted her words. "Are glass slippers magical arty-facts? I want them for my birthday."
"You can have anything --" Harry began, but Severus cut him off.
"Glass slippers are your Grandpa Draco's specialty," he said. Harry's mouth closed and the smirk was nearly audible. They had both been exasperated in the past by how much Draco and Astoria spoiled the girls. Draco, as far as Severus could tell, had never been able to refuse his grandchildren anything, from enchanted fashion dolls -- frankly, Severus would have given a great deal to have been along on that shopping expedition -- to imported baby food which came with more instructions on how to prepare than an O level potion. On the other hand, Astoria probably had more prosaic views on giving children fracture-able footwear.
"Yeah, of course they can be magical arty-- um, artifacts," Harry put in hastily.
"Even Muggles have stories about magical shoes," added Severus. Three pairs of eyes looked back at him. "What? I've been to a movie."
Two pairs of those eyes were soon drooping again. "I want to see a movie tomorrow," Mia said drowsily. "The one Great Uncle Dudley gave us about astronauts who took a rocket ship to the moon. Grandpa, if a werewolf went to the moon, would he have to be a wolf all the time he was there?"
"I don't believe anyone has ever studied that particular topic. Perhaps that can be your specialty after you go to Hogwarts." Rising, Severus came around to help Harry tuck the covers around the girls.
"Although the moon is very far away, and I'd miss you if you went to stay there," added Harry.
"Perhaps Lucy will loan you her coach," Severus suggested.
Both girls giggled, though Lucy's eyes were falling shut. "Silly, Grandpa. You can't fly horses to the moon! Not even hippogriffs."
Harry kissed her forehead, then Mia's. "If you lived on the moon, we would find a way to fly there," he promised.
After the girls had said sleepy goodnights and Harry and Severus had checked to make sure that Jamie hadn't dropped his stuffed dragon, they made their way to their own bedroom. "You do realize that tomorrow they'll be asking for lessons to fly to the moon," chided Severus.
"We'll just explain that there's no way to get to the moon without a rocket ship or a magical arty-fact." Grinning, Harry tossed Severus the Toothflossing Stringmints. "Maybe Grandpa Draco will buy them one. Though Grandpa Draco would probably prefer to ride in a princess coach."
Severus was not entirely successful at holding in a snort of cheerful laughter. "So would you," he accused, giving Harry a properly minty kiss. "Do you really feel that I bungled the marriage proposal?"
"You know that I don't." Harry looked momentarily stricken. "I was just trying to make them laugh. You don't actually --"
Relenting, Severus kissed him again. "You know that I'm content to play the curmudgeon in this relationship."
"Play is right. No one believes you're a curmudgeon -- not after you bought those pink curtains in the girls' room." Grinning, Harry kissed him back. "Now come to bed before I use a magical artifact to drag you with me."
"I've seen your magical artifact, and I wouldn't mind that. Though if you want me to whip out my wand, I will."
"You know I've been waiting all night!"
They both laughed, quietly, so as not to wake the children, and tiptoed to their bed.