*~* Warmth *~*
She turned and saw her sister’s boyfriend hurrying up to her. “What’s wrong? Is it Dawn?”
“What? No.” Harry suddenly felt awkward and embarrassed. “I… er, just wanted to, um… talk to you about something.”
“If this is you trying to pry private Dawn info from me, you can forget it. Though you should be warned that she likes to experiment in the kitchen. Loves mixing weird foods together. That‘s probably why she‘s doing so well in potions.”
“What? No, that‘s not it either.”
“What then? Spit it out.”
“How do you do the hero thing when what you want to do most is hide under a rock or something?”
And she had thought this couldn’t be anything that drastic.
Buffy sighed, grabbed his arm and dragged him to some chairs in the corner of the staff room. She’d been meaning to go home today. Especially since everybody seemed to be all right, and Faith was safely hidden. But she knew all too well what it was like to feel the burden that could be your life. Especially if you were chosen for some sort of destiny. Harry had that about him. He needed some slayer pep talk.
“There was this time in my life… not so very long ago, Harry, when I thought I would get a vacation from my life. From slaying. I thought I could go away somewhere and go to school. Be a real girl. You what I realized?”
“I am a real girl. I mean, I already WAS, and part of that real girl was a vampire slayer. There is no vacation from who I am, and I’m ok with that. I’m not always ok with it though. It’s ok to want to hide… as long as you don’t actually do so when the time comes for action.”
“I didn’t ask for any of this.”
“Do any of us?”
Harry sighed. “I don’t mean to whine.”
“It’s ok. I won’t tell.” Buffy smiled at him sadly. “I quit once.”
“When I was about your age, I quit. I turned in my stakes and prepared to give up. I found out there was this prophecy about my dying, and I’m afraid I reacted pretty bad. I was so afraid that I didn’t care what happened to the rest of the world as long as I didn’t die.”
“With the master.” Harry said. “Giles never told us you quit.”
“He must have mentioned it. He probably just didn’t put it quite like that.”
“Why wouldn’t he mention it like that then if that’s what really happened?”
“How much of a heroine would I be if I did that in the story, huh? In case you haven‘t noticed, Giles and company sugarcoat it a little as far as I‘m concerned when telling that stuff. They have this habit of making me seem greater than I am, and I don‘t mind because if that‘s how the see me, I should be so lucky.”
“What changed your mind?”
“Willow. These vampires had come into the school and killed a bunch of students. Willow was one of the people who found the bodies. It broke my heart to see her scared like that. If only I hadn’t indulged in self pity, maybe I could have stopped those people from dying.”
“But you couldn’t have known.”
“That’s why you can never give up.”
“I’m not giving up really. I just get… afraid.”
“Harry, real courage is being scared shitless and doing it anyway.”
“You get scared?”
“More than anyone will ever know. Even now. This Voltron guy is a bad dude. I get scared because he’s after you and Dawn again. I was scared when they took you guys last Christmas at the dance thing. Real scared. I don’t know what I’d do if I lost Dawn. She’s all the family I have left.”
“I’m not going to let anything happen to Dawn.”
“And I appreciate that.” Buffy looked at him. “You feeling a little better?”
“A bit. Yeah. Thanks.”
“Good.“ She nodded and rose. “I have to make sure my hellmouth is still there. See you around, Harry.”
“Yes, probably at the end of the world.”
“I have to ask… how did you get so brilliant?”
Buffy snorted. “Me? Brilliant? Can you tell Giles you think I’m brilliant? He thinks my head’s lopsided and I have as many smarts as a glue-sniffer. Or I’ve been kicked in or dropped on my head too many times.”
Harry laughed. “Does the life-wisdom come from the slaying?”
“No. Ironically, the life-wisdom comes from being dead twice.”
Harry chuckled again. “Well at you least you didn’t die any pointless deaths.”
This time it was Buffy who snorted in mirth. “You’re more clever that you look.”
“You as well. Must be a characteristic of us world savior types.”
“Must be. That has to be how we defeat our foes. They don’t think we look smart enough to win.”
“It’s nice to have an advantage.” He said smiling a real smile at her.
“Take care, Harry.” Buffy said seriously as she stepped into the magical fire that had been waiting for her.
“I plan to. You as well.”
“It’s what I do.”
“I think it’s what I do as well.”
“See you at the next apocalypse.”
Buffy tossed her floo powder. “Revello Drive!”
Harry watched her go. He felt much better somehow. Hermione had been right on in her suggestion of speaking to Buffy. It had definitely helped.
Harry knew what he had to do now.
And he felt a lot better about having to do it.
Monday dawned with all the warmth of a black rain cloud.
Tara was already in his classroom when Severus slammed into it. It had been a rough weekend all around, and everyone was showing the stress of it. Things had been a bit strained with Willow since the whole marriage thing. Then Severus had noticed Tara had not been at breakfast. From what he understood of pregnant woman, proper nutrition was important. He couldn’t say for sure. The last time he’d been anywhere near a pregnant woman was when he was in his mother’s womb.
“I noticed you did not join the rest of us for breakfast, Maclay. I do hope you at least ate something.”
Tara looked up at him then. Severus was so shocked by her appearance that he actually broke his usually rigid control over his person and took an involuntary step backwards.
“Suffering Salazar, woman, what in the hell happened to you?”
He had to have heard her wrong. “I beg your pardon?”
“Sirius is gone. He left. He left this morning with the Aurors. He’s gone chasing after Lucius Malfoy. He has some insane idea that I’ll be safe, that Celi and I will be safe, if Lucius is behind Azkaban’s walls. I knew once he was cleared he’d be too restless to stay. He’s not the sort. I hoped I‘d be wrong, but I had this feeling.”
Severus couldn’t move, much less say anything. Bloody hell! He didn’t WANT to be right about Black either. Why did he continuously have to be right about painful business like this? He liked when he was proved right. Who didn’t? But what he didn’t like was his assistant, his pregnant assistant, who was also close friends with his… girlfriend, Merlin how he despised that redheaded irritant for inserting herself into the role of girlfriend in his life, but back to what he didn’t like… and that was his assistant looking like she’d spent the night crying her eyes out.
Black was getting hexed. In his balls. Repeatedly.
“Go rest. I will handle class by myself today.”
“I’m not useless.”
“Maclay, I never said that you were. It’s just you aren’t doing your daughter any good by being a wreck, useless or not as the case may be.”
Tara just stared at him with her splotchy face and red eyes.
“Do not make me bind you and float you back to your chambers.”
Tara gaped at him.
“You’re very annoying, making me care for you like I do. I would be very disagreeable…”
She raised an eyebrow.
“Even more disagreeable than I already am were you to take ill because you were upset about Black… of all people.”
“You’d be sad if bad things happened to me?”
“Must you sound like a wibbling first year when you ask me that? Bloody hell. Yes. Yes I would be upset if something bad happened to you, dammit all. Who else would I get to organize my stores so perfectly? You think any of these dunderheads we teach could manage it? No. Well, possibly Malfoy, but that’s only because he’s related to you.”
Tara nodded and rose slowly. There was a slight smile on her lips. At least there was until she stumbled and Severus had to lunge at her to keep her from the floor.
“Rest.” He whispered in her ear. “Black will return to you. How could he not? I know that I could never wander while my child was within you. I would not want to miss a minute of that. The screaming infant nine months later I could do without, but to see it grow within its mother. I envy that bastard. He has always had that which alluded me… and he has never counted the blessings of having.”
Tara looked at him. “I understand it a little. He’s suffered.”
“Do not make excuses for a man so selfish, Tara, and especially do not make them to me. Not about HIM. I will not even try to understand his reasoning. All I know is that if he does not return to you soon, he is an even bigger fool than I took him for.”
Tara opened her mouth again.
“I know you care for him. Merlin knows we can’t choose who we care for. I am definite proof of that.”
“You are a good friend to have, Severus Snape.”
“Go rest before I decide to strangle you for spouting such drivel. I am no one‘s friend, Maclay.”
Tara moved to the door slowly. Suddenly she WAS feeling very tired. “That’s not true, Severus. You have been a very GOOD friend to me today.”
He sat at his desk and scowled after she left.
He wondered why the fates saw to it that such a sweet, gentle, loving, and loyal woman as Tara Maclay got saddled with a rotter like Black, and he, Severus Snape, ended up with the insufferable redhead annoyance that was Willow Rosenberg. He was better suited for Tara.
But he just so happened to be in love with Willow. Dammit. He’d never had true friends before. He was quite unsure of what was expected of him in this situation.
Curse Tara Maclay and her offers of friendship!
Why must he be surrounded by idiots and meddlers?!
Hedwig had delivered Harry a letter at breakfast. Harry had been curious until he’d opened and read it.
Then he moved to completely and utterly pissed off.
Sirius had taken off. Harry understood that he wanted to do something useful. He totally got that, but Sirius also had a woman who was pregnant with his baby here. It was grown up time now. Yes, he’d been dealt a bad hand with the being falsely accused thing, but he had responsibilities now. Harry was mostly angry because he knew if Sirius had told him he was leaving face to face instead of just running off and sending an owl later, Harry could have convinced him to stay. Sirius needed to stay.
Harry looked up from where he was sitting alone in the quad. Dawn was standing over him with concern all over her. he’d been sort of avoid-y with everyone, even Dawn, all day today. He didn’t wish to force his foul mood onto anyone else.
Dawn dropped her books and sat on the bench next to him. “Not exactly warm out here. What’re ya doin’?”
“Well, you’re certainly a font of information.” dawn said sarcastically.
“Look yourself, Harry, if you don’t want to talk about it, I can go.” She started to grab her books.
Harry placed a hand on her arm. “Can we not talk about it right now, but can you not go either?”
“You want me to just sit here with you?”
She wished he’d tell her what was bugging him. She knew Sirius had gone. Everybody sort of knew it by the end of classes today. Dawn was betting there was more to it than just Sirius leaving though. She leaned her head on Harry’s shoulder. He wrapped an arm around her.
Harry just sighed and wondered if Sirius had left Tara some note as well. Harry didn’t want to think how Tara might have reacted to being left behind like this. Harry knew he felt pretty angry about it himself. He could imagine Tara being even angrier. She shouldn’t have to do this pregnancy thing alone and worry that Sirius was getting into trouble too.
Remus had gone by to see Anya after his classes.
Today had been tough. Everyone had helping out to cover for Wesley since he was still a bit out of it. When he entered the infirmary, Giles was there. He was speaking quietly to Wesley. Those two had been thick as thieves since the hiding of Faith. Remus was betting they were formulating a plan to get the Watcher’s Council off of Faith’s back for good.
They both looked up when they saw Remus. The look the two of them gave Remus spoke volumes. Giles rose and met him halfway.
“What’s the trouble?” Remus asked. “Is Anya…”
“She’s still sleeping. Poppy said she came around earlier and ate something, but then she went back to sleep shortly after. Anya’s fine. She’ll be back to her embarrassing and tactless self in a matter of days. Go see your daughter.”
“What happened? Is she… is the baby…”
Remus tilted his head slightly. “What?”
“He took off this morning with that group of Aurors after Lucius Malfoy.”
“That complete and utter fool.” Remus snapped.
Remus gave Madam Pomfrey a look that near froze her. Then his face went slack in sadness.
“Thank you, Rupert. I apologize for shouting, Poppy.” He turned and left.
Giles exchanged a look with Madam Pomfrey. The woman’s eyes were a bit watery. Then Giles looked at Wesley. The other watcher was scowling.
Ginny was waiting outside the Slytherin common room when Draco and Lily made their way up. Dawn had opted to go Harry-searching since the boy wonder had been in such a foul mood today for no apparent reason. Ginny was standing there calmly while Parkinson and Hope harassed her. Draco smirked. Hope was just messing around. Parkinson was the one that was being serious. Draco figured Parkinson would have been recovering from her hexing still.
Pansy was in rare form today. She was insulting everything from Ginny’s hair to her lineage.
Before Draco could even make a snide remark, Lily stalked forward and lifted Parkinson by the throat with one hand.
“Damn, Rosenberg!” Draco snapped. “At least TRY to remember you have a wand sometimes. Stop trying to strangle her like some muggle, and just hex the bitch.”
Raven Hope took out her wand. “I wouldn’t recommend it.”
Draco glared at the blonde girl. She smirked at him. They could hex Pansy to next Tuesday, and Raven Hope would have stood there smirking. This was all show for Pans. Draco shook his head.
“Not here, Lily.”
Lily let go of Pansy, but looked her right in the eye. “Leave Ginny alone, or I’ll forget I don’t like to torture people by throwing lit matches on their bares chests anymore.”
Hope grabbed Parkinson and the two of them disappeared into the common room, but not before she threw Lily an impressed look that pansy didn‘t see.
“You all right?” Draco asked Ginny.
“Yes. I’m fine. Like I’d let anything those two stupid haggettes said to me be a bother.”
Draco smiled. He knew some of it HAD gotten to her though. He could tell. He hugged her then, smelling her hair, running the tip of his nose along the shell of her ear.
Lily rolled her eyes. “Ok, the last think I wanna do is watch you two go at it, so later, guys.”
Then Draco and Ginny were alone.
“What brings you to my common room, Miss Weasley?”
“Sirius left. That’s why Harry’s been so moody today.”
“Tara.” Draco whispered.
“Exactly my thoughts. She wasn’t in class today. I spoke to others. She wasn’t in any of Snape’s classes with him today, and did you notice he seemed extra vicious?”
“I did, but I just guessed it was due to Lily’s near-scrape this weekend, him being her father now.”
“Yeah, how strange is that?”
“Let’s take a walk you and I. I feel the need to just be with you.”
“Perhaps we could stop by and see how Tara’s doing after.”
“My thoughts exactly.” Draco sighed. “You just wait until I tell Spike about this. He’s liable to make an exception and start eating people again. You don‘t mess with the Malfoys, you know.”
“Yeah, I know.”
Remus entered at the soft ‘come in’. He was quite surprised to find Tara not alone. Fred Burkle and Amy Madison were with her.
“Hiya, Professor Lupin. We were just sittin’ with Tara for a bit. I suppose you know why now. Um, Tara, we’ll come by again later.” Fred nodded at the door with her head while looking at Amy.
Amy got up quickly and followed Fred out.
“I didn’t mean to chase off your friends.”
“It’s ok. I sort of wanted to be alone anyhow. Fred and Amy are great, but Amy’s still not used to talking, and Fred tends to ramble worse than Willow does when she’s nervous.”
“If you want to be alone… I can… go.”
“Please don’t. I need you to tell me everything is gonna be all right.”
“I can’t know that, Tara.”
“Can you just tell me that it is anyhow?”
Remus sighed and sat next to her on her bed. “Everything is going to be all right.”
He chuckled and put his arm around her. “But it is. I may have missed the first part of your life, but I can help you now. I’m here. It will be all right.”
“But I want Sirius to here, Daddy.” She started crying then.
“Please don’t cry.”
“Tara, please. Don’t cry. I can’t bear it if you cry. Tell me what happened.”
“We had a very silly fight, and he left, and I don’t understand why he can’t just be happy where he is. He was happy before then, but now he has all these choices, and suddenly, I’m not enough. He has to go play hero. Because he can now.”
“He just… Sirius is just…”
“Oh I know what Sirius is just. He’s just doing what James Potter would want. What James would expect. Tell me, Daddy, if there was no Lily Evans would Sirius and James have gotten married?”
“Tara.” Remus admonished.
“W-well, I’m c-competing with a ghost, and i-it makes m-me cranky.”
“You aren’t competing with James for Sirius’s affections. It’s not the same. It’d be like saying Sirius competed with Willow for your affections. Or Harry. Or me. He doesn’t love you the way he loved or loves the rest of us. He loves you more. He loves you in a way he has never loved anyone, and despite my reservations about someone I grew up with courting my daughter, I can’t deny him you. I’ve never seen him like he is with you, and there are worse son-in-laws to be had. Sirius just… doesn’t feel like he’s done anything to deserve you.”
“Why can’t I be the judge of that?”
“Because that’s rarely the way it works.”
Tara sighed. “Do you miss my mother?”
“Is that why you never found anyone else? You just loved and missed her so much?”
“That’s part of it.”
“What’s the other part?”
“I couldn’t be bothered to actually look.”
Remus smiled at that. She should giggle more often. She should have that in her life. He smile at the rare sound that came from her.
And vowed to hex his best friend the next time he saw him.
“You’re awfully cranky today.” Willow remarked from where she was sitting brushing her hair in her oddly attractive t shirt for sleeping. “I would think Sirius Black taking off for parts unknown would be cause for celebration in Snapeland.”
“Normally it would be.”
“So why the pants of cranky, Cranky Pants?”
He scowled at her. “Have I mentioned how I despise the way you do that?”
“Vocally abuse the English language.”
“You might have. Once or twice. Now answer the question please.”
“Tara was upset about it.”
“I know. I stopped by and brought her some lunch today after she didn’t show up. I also suggested to Dobby that he bring the Miss Maclay three meals a day until she felt like joining the group again.”
“That was rather considerate of you.”
“I still love her.”
His looked at her sharply.
“Not like that, mister traded our Bitchy Britches for Paranoid Pants. I love her like I love Buffy or Xander or Dawn. She’s part of the Scooby family. Don‘t worry. You’re the one I’m IN LOVE with. You‘re still the one I wanna snuggle and make smoochies with and make the sweet het love to.”
His response was to snarl at that.
“I know. I know. You despise me.”
Willow walked over and sat on his lap, resting her head on his shoulder and wrapping her arms around him.
“Tell me what’s bothering you. I promise to try and not be annoying about it.”
Severus sighed. “The blasted woman refers to me as her friend. She even calls me a good friend. It’s not to be borne! First, I acquire a girlfriend… who can’t decide if she wants to marry me. Then a daughter. Actually, I don’t acquire the daughter, she acquires ME. Then I go start having friends. This is not acceptable. Don‘t you lot realize who I am? What‘s with you Sunnydale women courting such disaster?”
Willow gave him a comforting pat on the chest. “Your indignation about people starting to love and care for you is very sexy, did you know?”
“I thought you just promised not to be annoying about this.”
“I promised I’d TRY not to be.”
He sighed loudly in a way that said he was annoyed.
“I mean it. I’ve never wanted you more.” Willow said. “Well, except when you tied me up in the sweater. I was pretty bad with the wantin’ then.”
“Despise me. I know. I love you too, Cranky Pants.”
She leaned up to kiss his cheek, but he turned, and she caught his lips instead. Time froze for just a moment. And as Willow pulled back, she didn’t open her eyes immediately. His robes, his very skin smelled of cauldron smoke. He always did. She loved that smell. She could drown in it.
“I don’t understand you.” He said quietly.
“I don’t understand you either.” Willow whispered as she opened her eyes. “Let’s spend the rest of eternity trying to figure each other out, what‘d‘ya say?”
“Woman, did you just propose to me?”
“Yes. I think I did.”
Neither one of them spoke for a very long time.
“Very well.” He replied finally. “I accept.”
“And that’s exactly the response I always imagined.”
“Did you just accept?”
“Well, you did go to all the trouble of asking.”
“But there’s no…”
“Ring? Candles? Flower petals? Does there need to be? Because if you require it, I can certainly accommodate you. I am, after all, a wizard.”
“I don’t need anything but you.”
He stared at her. “Normally that sort of sappy drivel would make me vomit, but from you in regards to me… I rather like it. She we retire then?”
“Oooo. Celebration sex.”
“Another perfectly somber moment ruined.”
“You don’t HAVE to marry me, you know.”
“Yes I do. Otherwise you’ll just end up leaving me to inflict damage on some other poor soul.”
“You? A poor soul? Ha!” Willow got to her feet and pulled him to his. “Besides, you couldn’t chase me away.”
“No, you’ve proven most stubborn in that area.”
“You are very irritating. Remove your silly little nightgown, and let us commence with your celebration sex.”
“So romantic.” Willow quipped dryly.
“Romance is for pansies, saps, and utter fools.”
“Can’t you at least say something nice? Just the once. I won’t tell anyone you said it. Girl Scouts’ honor. Your nasty greasy git rep will still be firmly in place. Promise.”
“What the devil is a girl scout?”
“It’s a muggle thing. I’ll explain later. Dazzle me with your compliment now. Just one. Surely you can think of ONE nice thing to say about me.”
He scowled and stared at her.
Then finally. “You are warmth.”
He went on like she had not uttered anything. “All my life I lived in ice until you thawed me.”
Willow just stared with her mouth hanging open. That had to be one of the loveliest statements of her life. She’d said to pick one, and picked he certainly had. Goddess!
“Was that adequate?” He asked blandly.
Her answer was to yank her sleep shirt over her head and launch herself at him. Interesting effect. Severus was thinking he should compliment her more often.
Then he got distracted by other things.