The weather isn't the only thing that's bad; Severus has one lousy day. Draco and Harry work well together, under adverse circumstances and Gwen doubles Anna's burden. Which isn't, necessarily, a...
"What I did on my summer holiday"
"Ah, Severus. Do come in."
Voldemort looked down at the Wizard who entered and knelt before him.
"My, my, you've had an unusual summer, haven't you? Funerals to attend, students underfoot and now it's nearly time for term to start again. Busy, busy, busy."
Severus didn't move or answer. Voldemort cocked his head.
"What...no scathing comments...no sarcastic remarks? Are you feeling quite well, Severus?"
"I'm in good health; thank you for your concern, Master. I was just indulging in a little daydreaming about which of those students I should like to strangle first; Malfoy or Potter."
"Really? A perplexing problem...perhaps I could help with your decision?"
"It was just a bit of fantasizing, Master, as I know Potter is your own personal property to destroy. I will, however, be able to content myself with Malfoy."
"I'm afraid you'll have to discuss that with his Aunt Bella, who, I believe, has already formulated plans for his punishment and demise."
"I see. Not unexpected, as I know Bella must be furious with him...and his mother. Well, perhaps Longbottom, then; an equally annoying thorn in my side"
"Indeed, the last of the Longbottoms. We'll take care of the lot, then, when the time is right."
Voldemort rose from his chair and began pacing the room.
"What would you have me do for you, Master?" Severus asked, deciding to get to the heart of the matter.
"Actually, this does have something to do with Draco, although you won't be directly involved. I want you to be of assistance to young Crabbe and Goyle when they return to Hogwarts. I have a promise from them to do as much harm to Draco as they can manage, without killing him, of course, and then they are to return to me for their reward."
Severus' eyebrow went up.
"You, Severus, are to make sure they get out of Hogwarts and safely through the gates. If they are detained, they would face expulsion - no great punishment in my estimation - but, because they are of age, they could also be arrested and face criminal charges. They would be put in Azkaban with their worthless, idiot fathers. /That.../I will not tolerate. Do you understand, Severus."
"Yes, Master. I will see to their escape, personally escorting them if necessary. I can always say I was.../chasing/ them, but being younger, swifter...well, they might just manage to out run me...with a little head start."
Voldemort chuckled, but it was a mirthless sound.
"When will they attack, Master? The first night they return wouldn't be prudent, if you don't mind my being so bold as to offer my opinion. Draco will be suspicious of them and very wary. Perhaps they should bide their time, lull him into a false sense of security."
"Oh, I agree, Severus. They are under the strictest orders to act as if nothing unusual was going on. Be sympathetic toward poor Draco about Miss Parkinson, for instance or get him to talk about the plans he might have for spending some of the family fortune. In order to be sure they don't ruin my plans, I've done memory charms and trigger-event charms on them. When that specific event occurs, the memory charm will lift and they will know exactly what to do and will act as soon as they can."
"What special event should I be watching for, Master, so I can be sure my own preparations are in place?"
"Let us just say that if Draco receives any happy news, his next thoughts will be pain filled; nothing like ruining a good time with a bad experience."
"Happy news and Draco Malfoy have not been used in the same sentence for months now, Master."
"Yes, pity, that." Again, the mirthless chuckle.
"So, I have until the end of September to prepare?" Severus asked, with sudden understanding.
"Very astute, Severus. Yes, the end of September...Now." He sat down again, and leaned forward. "Tell me what Potter and Draco have been up to, with only each other for company."
"Practicing basic dueling spells, helping that oaf, Hagrid and also Pomona Sprout and flying around the Quidditch pitch. They have an uneasy truce in place, but I don't think it will last past the arrival of the other students on the Express. Potter is like Dumbledore; willing to give Draco the benefit of the doubt and a second chance, but I can't see many of the other students in Potter's clique giving Draco the time of day. What's that Muggle expression...'a leopard can't change its spots'?"
"Interesting...and appropriate, in this context."
Voldemort rose from his chair and started pacing again. Severus remained motionless, hands at his side.
"This has been a summer of education, for all of us. I, myself, have been studying everyone's responses to various situations, and have been mostly correct in my predictions and thus, satisfied but occasionally...disappointed. You, Severus, for instance, managed to do both; you report to me, truthfully and without excuses.
"BUT, allowing Draco to have free rein with the Malfoy fortune...how vexing. No matter, I have other resources. Although with that meddling fool, Dumbledore, whispering in his ear and that traitorous mother of his encouraging his actions, your words of guidance and council were, probably, falling unheeded into his empty skull.
"However," Voldemort continued, "we learn from our failures as well as our successes. I've been quite enjoying the responses and reactions of those people against whom I have sent my faithful servants. It has been most enlightening."
"Indeed, Master. I, myself, was mildly surprised that there was not more panic on the part of some of those against whom you turned your attention."
"Yes, it appears their level of confidence in their preparedness and abilities is quite high, and foolishly egotistical. It will be their undoing."
Severus looked up, perplexed, in spite of himself. Voldemort smirked.
"Those attacks were not full force or as all encompassing as I could have launched. I was testing them, Severus, as I was testing...you."
Before he could even take a breath, the '/Cruciatus Curse'/ hit Severus and he found himself writhing on the floor, pain coursing through his body, every nerve ending on fire. He was vaguely aware of Voldemort looming over him, wand pointed at him. It took a few agonizing seconds to realize the screams he heard were his own.
Some remote part of his brain was registering the fact that this was the longest session of 'punishment' he'd, as yet, had to endure. He wasn't panicking; he knew it would end soon. Voldemort needed him, at least for a bit longer, at Hogwarts.
As suddenly as it started, the pain was gone. The only sound was Severus gasping for breath. He lay on the cold floor, not moving, eyes closed, trying to gather his wits and strength. This was when Severus was most vulnerable to Voldemort using his skill at Legilimens to invade his thoughts/./
'Must...concentrate...Draco...Potter,' /Severus thought, '...Dumbledore.'/
He could feel Voldemort trying to enter his mind, but managed to prevent him from seeing anything other than the images of Draco at the gates, finding Pansy's body and Harry and Dumbledore talking.
Voldemort snorted; he was obviously looking for more information, testing the truth of Severus' previous statements.
The torture started, again, lasting even longer this time. All Severus could do was wait for it to end. Finally, Voldemort had vented his anger and the pain stopped. Severus lay there for several minutes, exhausted and slightly disoriented, as his Master walked over to a nearby table and poured himself a drink.
"What is it Anna? Do you feel alright?" Gwen was watching Anna's face carefully.
"I don't know, Gwen, I just have the strangest feeling...I have a faint little voice in my mind...calling my name." She tilted her head, concentrating. "Something's wrong...Severus! It's Severus' voice, Gwen!"
Anna got up off the sofa and went into the hall. She whistled for Chester and Beau and then sent the faithful dogs looking for Christopher. Meanwhile she paced, watched by Gwen. Luckily, Narcissa was taking a nap.
"Yes, dear, what is it today?"
"Christopher! Where's Severus?"
"Severus? Why, I'm not sure. Down in his office, I suppose, getting ready for the school year. I can check. Is anything wrong?"
"That's what I need to find out. I've got a bad feeling something is very wrong."
"Right-o. I'll nip down and see if I can locate him. Be back as soon as possible."
"Thank you, darling."
"Oh! Hello, Gwen!"
"Be right back."
"Ok. Go already!" urged Gwen, smiling.
Anna was pacing - well waddling slightly - her pregnancy was starting to really show. Now the baby was kicking, furiously.
"Ow, ow, ow! Hey, take it easy in there!" Anna looked down at her rounded tummy and shook her finger. "Stop kicking Mummy in the ribs and jumping on my bladder!"
"Anna, the baby can't do both at once."
"Want to bet? This one can."
Gwen cocked her head.
"Maybe it's not one."
"What? Oh, don't be daft! Of course it's one; a mutinous little copy of Severus who is practicing pitching hissy fits."
"Wish we had electricity here, I'd do a sonogram. Is there any way you could tell, with a spell or something? You're a Healer, after all."
"One small problem with that: when a Healer is pregnant, she has a very hard time casting healing spells. The pregnancy just interferes too much, especially with self diagnosis. Sorry."
"Ok, I'll just do it the old fashioned way. Sit down on the bench; I'll be right back."
Going into the living room, Gwen returned with her bag and rummaged around for her stethoscope. Putting in the ears pieces, she knelt down in front of Anna and proceeded to listen intently to the sounds emanating from Anna's abdomen. She moved the stethoscope around, shifted it, shifted it again and again, concentrating. A wide grin spread across her face as she straightened up and took out the earpieces, draping the scope around her neck.
"Madam Snape, you are going to be the mother of twins. I heard two, count them, two, distinct heartbeats in there, with your heartbeat in the background. Sounded like a drum line."
"Oh...my...God." Anna sat there, stunned.
"Well, what do you know; Anna, lost for words." Gwen sat down next to her and gave her a hug. "Congratulations."
"You said that already," Gwen giggled. "You stay here and contemplate the wonderfulness of it all and I'll go get us a cup of tea."
"Yeeeaah...I'll be right back."
Gwen got up and headed for the kitchen, shaking her head, smiling, but stopped when Anna spoke.
"I'm regretting every smart remark I ever made to Cissa about getting rotund or waddling; anything to do with pregnancy."
Gwen stood in the doorway and looked back at Anna, crossing her arms and grinning.
"You wait, Missy; your time will come." Anna wagged a finger at Gwen.
"From your mouth to God's ear." Turning, she continued on to the kitchen. "Be right back!"
Draco and Harry were walking down the stairs, going back to the Slytherin common room after their visit to the Headmaster's office. Dumbledore had taken the news of Severus being summoned by Voldemort with no more than, what seemed to be, mild interest.
He was, however, intrigued by the boy's idea for learning of the returning Slytherins possible plans for retaliation toward Draco. He had not so much given his blessing to their idea as told them to iron out the details and report to him on how it all worked, afterward/. He did assure Draco that if they did happen to find out what plans were intended to be put into action against him, he would make sure safety measures were in place to help protect Draco from any harm. That part, he /had been working on, himself.
"Well, I guess the next step will be getting the new tumblers. Got any idea where you're going to purchase them?" Draco asked Harry as he picked up his tumbler from the table and went to pour himself another drink. Thinking better of it, he called a house elf and checking with Harry, ordered a pitcher of pumpkin juice and some crisps.
"I don't think there's any place in Diagon Alley. I'll have to get together with Hermione and go shopping, somewhere on Oxford St., probably. Have to get a gift for Bill and Fleur, come to that." Harry shrugged. "How much do we want to spend? I don't have a clue what they would cost."
"We? No, this is my treat, so to speak. You do the leg work and I'll supply the dosh."
"Ok, but I promise not to get carried away; can't be too fancy."
"Why not? I'm buying, Potter! I've got the ready and a reputation to uphold; only the best for us Malfoys!" Draco looked pensive. "I'll need to write you a draft for Gringotts."
"Don't bother. Believe it or not, Draco, old man, I'm not poor. I have a good amount of the ready, myself. So, I'll just tell you the final cost and then you can send an owl and have Gringotts transfer the amount into my vault. Deal?"
Harry put out his hand.
"Deal." Draco shook Harry's hand. "Ok, let me write everyone's name down so they get the spelling correct. When are you going to London?"
"I was going Friday afternoon. The wedding is Saturday and I was coming back Sunday. Maybe I'll go earlier, say, Thursday night or Friday morning, so Hermione and I can have the extra time to shop. It won't matter much, my room's always ready."
"/Your/ room? You have a reserved room at the Leaky Cauldron?"
"Don't be daft, Draco...oh, wait, you don't know, do you? I own a house in London; I inherited it."
"Bloody hell! From whom, your parents?"
"No...Sirius Black, he was my Godfather."
"Well, bugger me. You're better off then I am, Potter. At least you have a house to go to!" Draco threw back his head and laughed.
"It needs a lot of work, though. I plan on doing some serious renovation, once we graduate." Harry's eyes lit up. "Hey, if you need a place to crash until you rebuild the manor, my door is going to be open. You can live there during the construction, if you like."
"Sure, why not? Bachelor digs in London!"
"You get rid of Voldemort first, then we'll talk."
"Oh...damn. Yeah, I suppose I'd better see to that first. What a bother."
Harry heaved a dramatic sigh, hand to his forehead, fell back on the cushions and burst out laughing.
"How can you laugh? The bloody bastard wants both of us dead, you especially!" Draco exclaimed.
"Draco, I've been hearing that for six long years/. You? Two months. I'm used to it. Not ignoring it, exactly, but focusing /past it. And there will be life after Voldemort."
Harry was suddenly very serious. Draco regarded him with furrowed brows, and then smiled.
"Ok, in that case, you're on. I'm reserving a room, /now/. Deal?"
"Anna?" Christopher had returned.
"Christopher!" Anna looked up, startled at the sudden reappearance of her late husband. "Where is he?"
"I didn't find Severus in his office, so I went and checked with Albus. He was most reassuring, but it seems Severus was summoned by Voldemort. He's been gone most of the morning."
"I knew it! I just had this awful feeling he was in trouble...in pain."
"Voldemort wouldn't harm Severus, would he?" Gwen asked, looking back and forth between the two.
"Of course he would, if he's in a mood," came a reply from the stairs. It was Narcissa, slowly descending to the hallway. "Not as badly as he hurt Lucius for his failure to retrieve the /Prophesy/, but a little torture, he feels, keeps everyone in line."
"A real sweetheart, that one." Gwen shook her head.
"Any idea when he'll return?" Anna asked Christopher.
"No, but I'll keep an ear open and check on him when he does return. I'll come inform you, straightaway."
Anna nodded, and then took a deep breath.
"I appreciate that, darling. I'll be near; just give a shout. It's raining, so we're spending the day relaxing indoors."
"It's pouring buckets here at Hogwarts. Bad thunderstorms, lousy weather, but, what can one do?"
"Let it rain!" Anna and Gwen chorused.
"Right. Well, I'm off. Ta!"
"Ta!" "Bye, Dad." "Christopher."
Turning to Cissa, Anna cocked her head. "I thought you were taking a nap? I'm sorry if we woke you?"
"Not really, but I heard you whistle for the dogs. I knew something was up and when I heard Christopher return, my curiosity got the better of me." Looking at the empty tea cups on the table, she waved her hand. "I could do with a cup 'a. How about you, refills?"
"Yes, and maybe a biscuit or two," answered Anna.
"Speaking of two...guess what?" Gwen stood there with a 'cat that ate the canary' grin on her face and then turned to Anna.
"What?" Cissa asked. Looking at Anna, she saw the blush rising on her cheeks. Cissa eyes got wide. "Oh...you're not...are you? TWINS?"
Anna nodded and Cissa threw her arms around Anna, as best she could, and gave her a big hug.
"Oh, this is splendid! Won't Severus be surprised!?!"
"I hope he won't have a stroke!" Anna laughed.
"This calls for a celebration!" Cissa clapped her hands.
"Sod tea, I say this calls for the bubbly...sparkling cider!"
"Works for me, Gwen; lead on!"
"Get up, Severus. I must discuss some other business with you."
Severus pushed himself into a sitting position and then stood, weaving slightly. He felt /awful/.
"I know your position is difficult, Severus; a balancing act of great delicacy. But the time is coming when you will be able to take your place at my side as I meter out the sentences of those who survive the final attack. I don't take prisoners...for long. There will be no mercy...for anyone."
"That is as it should be Master."
"Remember that, Severus. There are those who have doubted your loyalty. Some...are no longer with us."
"Yes, he never trusted you as I do; be sure that trust is not misplaced."
"And...there are those, still with us, who would love to see you fall, for personal reasons."
"Bella. Ah, yes, she's very eager to start the final battle, but as I've told her: 'patience'. We must herd all of the sheep into the fold, /then/, the slaughter."
"One last thing, Severus: you will find out where Narcissa is hiding and Anna Twigg-Jones, also. Those two are of special interest and importance to my final plans and if I can find out where they're hiding, perhaps they can be flushed out and chased into our trap."
"The more the merrier," Voldemort replied, but it didn't sound merry at all.
Severus' eyebrow shot up.
"Oh, this will be quite the finale, Severus, have no doubt. When the time is right, Hogwarts and all those fools who seek shelter and sanctuary within those walls will be crushed. Then they and the pile of rubble that was Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry will be just so many fleeting memories."
"Yes, Master; a great day, indeed."
Voldemort looked at Severus, his eyes gleaming.
"Do /not/ disappoint me, Severus."
Severus turned and left the room, walking as steadily as he could.
Severus Apparated at the gates of Hogwarts. He swayed and then walked over to the black wrought iron gates, pulling out his wand as he approached. He flipped his wand, the lock clicked, then the gate opened just enough for him to slip through. It swung shut with a clang and the lock clicked shut and sealed itself.
It was still pouring rain, but it felt surprisingly refreshing on his upturned face as he leaned back against the black bars, gathering his strength for the long walk up to the school. He'd had to muster every ounce of his will to walk out of Voldemort's presence without showing the pain he was suffering.
Something wasn't right; he usually didn't hurt this badly or for this long. '/Oh, well/, ' he thought, '/a long soak in a hot tub of water and a good stiff drink of fire-whiskey should put me right.' /Heaving himself upright, he took a few steps, then the pain hit him and he doubled over.
"Merlin!" '/What is wrong with me?/' Severus thought.
Another wave of stabbing pain hit his mid-section and he went down on one knee, gasping for breath. He knew he was going to pass out; he could feel the waves of blackness trying to wash over his brain. He fumbled in his pocket and pulled out the coin Potter had lent him. Tapping it twice with his wand, he groaned and collapsed on the sodden gravel drive.
"/HARRY/! /DRACO/! MEET ME IN THE FRONT HALL, /IMMEDIATELY/!"
The magically amplified voice of the Headmaster caused both boys to jump. They looked at each other and tore out of the Slytherin common room, their card game scattered and forgotten. Taking the stairs two and three at a time, they raced up to find Dumbledore descending the marble stairs.
"Someone has signaled from the front gates. I fear it might be Severus and he may need your help"
Draco turned and headed for the front doors but Harry stopped him with a shout.
Whipping out his wand, he yelled, " 'Accio brooms'!"
Within seconds, his Firebolt and Draco's Nimbus 2001 came whizzing up the stairs. They each grabbed their broom, hopped on and launched themselves at breakneck speed out the open doors.
Flying low and fast across the lawn, they couldn't see very well through the pelting rain, but a lightning flash illuminated the grounds and they spotted the black shape lying on the road.
Their oaths were lost to the wind and thunder as they bent forward and streaked at full speed to the gates. Jumping off their brooms, Draco and Harry skidded to a stop and knelt next to the body of their Potions professor. Harry rolled him over gently and Draco felt for a pulse, looked up at Harry and nodded.
Another flash of lightning and then a tremendous rolling clap of thunder muffled Harry's shouted instructions. "Stretcher...between...brooms...quickest way." Draco nodded his understanding.
Standing, Draco conjured a stretcher and moved Severus onto it, while Harry produced ropes and tied their brooms to the stretcher. Satisfied the ropes would hold, they sat, sidesaddle, on either side of Severus' body and flew as quickly as they dared, back to the school.
Unseen by Harry and Draco, a rat scurried away from where it had hidden by the gates; a rat with a missing claw on its front paw.
Arriving at the entrance hall, they slowed down only enough to safely maneuver up the stairs to the Hospital Wing, where they found Albus Dumbledore and Madam Pomfrey waiting for them. The Headmaster moved Severus onto a bed and Madam Pomfrey shooed them away and conjured a screen so she could examine her patient. She also instructed Harry and Draco to get out of their wet clothes and into a hot tub of water.
"I don't need you two as patients, on top of this one!" came Poppy's voice, from behind the screen.
Turning to the two soaking wet boys, Albus nodded agreement. "Go and do as Poppy said," urged Dumbledore. "I'll keep you informed." He put a hand on each of their shoulders. "Thank you for your quick action. You may have saved his life."
"Is it usually this bad when he comes back?" Harry asked.
"No. But he's strong and I think Poppy will be able to set him right. Now, run along, you two, before Mr. Filtch comes to find out who's been tracking mud and water on his floors."
They nodded and started out, just as Christopher came running into the painting by the entrance to Poppy's office.
"Christopher!" Harry looked up. "Professor Snape had my signal coin and used it when he returned to the gates. We found him there unconscious."
"Do you know what's wrong? Albus?"
Albus walked over to join them. "Poppy is examining him, Christopher, as we speak. We'll know something, momentarily."
"Sod the bath! I'm not leaving until I know, too." Draco crossed his arms and proceeded to drip a small puddle on the floor.
"Right." Harry joined him, shoulder to shoulder, dripping.
"In that case..." Dumbledore chuckled. Casting a drying spell he got rid of a majority of the rainwater that had soaked them to their skin. "But, into that bath as soon as we hear, agreed?"
"Yes, sir." "Agreed."
Poppy came bustling up to them.
"Headmaster, we have to get Professor Snape to St. Mungo's. His appendix has burst and I could handle that, but considering his weakened state," she added, arching her eyebrow. "It would be better to have extra help."
"We all understand what Severus probably suffered, so let me see to the arrangements and I'll be right back. Make him as comfortable as possible in the meantime, Poppy."
"Yes, Headmaster," replied the Healer, who turned and hurried back around the screen that hid Severus from their sight.
"All right, you two, off to the bath."
"Yes, sir. Bye Christopher."
After Draco and Harry left, the Headmaster turned to Christopher.
"Tell Anna that Severus is the victim of a burst appendix and will be taken to St. Mungo's; purely as a precautionary measure. Under NO circumstances is she to go there."
"Understood; I'll have Gwen sit on her and enlist Winky and Cissa to help."
"Splendid. Well, I must make arrangements, so if you'll excuse me, Christopher."
"Certainly. I'll go tell Anna and then check with Remus; have him keep an eye on what happens at St. Mungo's."
"Good idea. I'll speak with you later."
Bella entered through a side door.
"Ah, Bella, you just missed seeing Severus."
"I heard he had been here. Perhaps it was best we weren't here together, as I don't now if I could quite trust myself to be in the same room with him, yet."
"Now, Bella. Severus had no control over Draco's actions, without revealing himself, so he chose the wiser course of action."
"But, Master, he could have used an '/Imperius curse'/ on Draco and had him reverse the changes that traitorous brat had ordered at Gringotts," Bella huffed, nearly stamping her foot, she was so frustrated.
"I doubt seriously if that would have gone unquestioned or unchallenged. No matter; the Malfoy fortune will be ours again when you adopt the orphaned heir...after your sister's untimely death." Voldemort smiled.
"Yes, Master. Thank you again, Master, for your generosity in allowing Rodolphus and myself to care for and raise my poor little niece."
Voldemort stood watching the emotions flashing across Bella's face: anger, pleasure, hatred, eagerness, greed and happiness and self-satisfaction. She was so easy to read, to control...to use...to do his bidding...to give him pleasure.
"That thought makes you happy, Bella?" he asked in a quiet, silky voice.
"Oh, yes, Master, very happy."
"Then, why don't you come here to me. Share some of your happiness and gratitude with me...won't you?"
Walking down the hall, Harry and Draco heard their names being called. It was Christopher, in a landscape near the corner stairs.
"Boys, could I have a minute?"
Harry and Draco detoured to the picture.
"Harry, did I hear you correctly; did you say Severus had your signal coin?"
"Yes, he did."
"I loaned it to him, just in case. I don't know; I had a strange feeling he might need it."
"Giving Sybil Trelawney a run for her money?" asked Christopher, smiling. Draco snorted.
"Bite your tongue, Christopher!" Harry retorted.
"Just teasing, Harry," replied Christopher. "So, what happened?"
"Professor Snape used the alarm coin; he must have been in a lot of pain. The Headmaster called us and we flew out to the gates," Harry started retelling the story.
"He was lying on the ground, inside the gates, unconscious," continued Draco.
Harry nodded and finished the tale. "We rigged a stretcher between our brooms and flew him up to the hospital wing. That's about it."
"Ok. Well, that's a good report. I better go alert Remus, so he can keep an eye on things in London. Meanwhile, you two go hit that hot bath, like Poppy ordered. And I second her advice, by the way. This is your doctor speaking!" He wagged a finger at them and then left the painting."
"Prefects bathroom?" Harry suggested.
"Yeah, I'm just going to go get a change of totally dry, clean clothes. Meet you there in ten minutes."
"Ok, but watch out for Moaning Myrtle. She likes to sneak a peek," Harry noted, then laughed.
"Yeah, I've caught her, a couple of times," agreed Draco.
"At least she's got good taste."
They both laughed at that and headed off to their respective dorm rooms.
"Ah, there you are."
Christopher smiled at the three women as they emerged into the hall from the parlor.
"You're smiling Dad, so it's good news?" asked Gwen.
"Well, good news and sort of good/bad news."
"Get on with it, Christopher," growled Anna, hands on her hips.
"Oh, now, relax Anna. If something was seriously wrong, you know I'd tell you straightaway."
"Sorry. I know you would, dear. So, what's the good news?"
"Severus is getting the best of care."
"And the good/bad news would be...he needs care/ because/?"
"He has a burst appendix and is being taken to St. Mungo's."
"Surely Poppy could handle that...what else is there?" Anna was eyeing his suspiciously.
"It seems Voldemort worked him over a bit roughly with some curse or other and he's very weak. So, just as a precaution, Poppy thought it best to send him to St. Mungo's. That's all, dear, really."
"I see. Well, I ..." Anna looked relieved, then confused, then worried. "Don't suppose any of you would even consider the idea of letting me go to him, would you?"
"No." "I don't think so." "There's no way."
"I thought not...Damn!"
"You can't go for a number of reasons and you know it." Christopher crossed his arms and regarded her with a stern look. "One: why should you know or care what happens to Severus. No one knows about the two of you. As far as the Wizarding world is concerned, you're just Hogwarts faculty members and old schoolmates."
"Two: You're in hiding from Voldemort; hiding being the operative word."
"Three: You're pregnant. Try explaining /that /at St. Mungo's."
"Points - plural - taken." Anna hung her head.
"It's just his appendix, Anna, simple procedure. It's mainly; well, embarrassing at his age; that something that small could put him in the hospital. But that's the way it is," Gwen spoke up.
Anna nodded and then looked at Christopher.
"Where is he now? Still at Hogwarts?"
"I think so, but Albus is making the arrangements to have him transported."
"How is Severus taking this? I bet he's not a bit happy about being laid up this close to term starting," Narcissa asked.
"Well, to tell you the honest truth, he's unconscious and Poppy's keeping him that way, so he doesn't have to deal with the pain."
"What?" Anna spun around to face Christopher. "Ok, The whole story! And don't leave out any details."
"I knew you'd ask, so here it is: As you already know, Severus had been summoned by Voldemort, but someone signaled from the front gates with one of your coins. Albus called the boys to the main entrance, believing, correctly, that Severus wouldn't have used the coin if everything was fine, he would have just walked to the school, even with the weather being so foul. Harry and Draco flew their brooms out there, found Severus lying unconscious on the road, put him on a stretcher, secured between their brooms and flew him straight to the hospital wing." Christopher took a deep breath. "That's it in a nutshell."
"Why did Severus have a coin? Where'd he get that?" asked Gwen.
"Harry lent it to him, just in case. He had a hunch." Christopher shrugged.
Anna had clapped her hand to her forehead. "Why didn't I make one for him? What was I thinking?"
"So, make one for each of the staff and the Order. We may need them," suggested Cissa.
"Good point, Cissa," agreed Gwen. "Something for our 'to do' list."
"Are you sure you're telling me everything, Christopher? He's really alright? No other injuries." Anna was watching her dead husband's figure with mild suspicion.
"As far as I've heard, the appendix is the main concern, but I will have Remus go to St. Mungo's and get a full report from Artemus Pye. Will that be alright?"
"Yes, that would do wonders to ease my mind, darling. Thank you."
"Right. I'm off then. I will get back to you as soon as I hear something definite. Ta!"
"Did Severus return safely to Hogwarts?"
"In a manner of speaking, Master; he returned, but not under his own power."
Voldemort sat up and glowered at Wormtail.
"He arrived at the gates, entered and then collapsed."
"/Really/? Why was that, do you suppose?"
"He appeared to be in pain; he was doubled over, went down on one knee and then collapsed."
"Passed out? Severus? My, my. And then what happened, Wormtail?"
Voldemort was clearly relishing this story.
"I was going to go over and see if he was conscious but Potter and Draco Malfoy came to his rescue. Rode their brooms from the school, put him on a stretcher and took him, held between them, back to the castle.
"Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy...working together to help Severus Snape? Interesting...very interesting. Thank you Wormtail, you may go."
Wormtail hustled from the room, thanking his lucky stars that his Master was too busy thinking about what he'd just heard to pay any attention to him.
Voldemort stood and started pacing the room, a gleam in his eyes and a smile playing on his lips.
"Very interesting, indeed."