Say the secret word...or...pick door number one?
"Cyrus?" Gwen whispered, trying to make as little noise as possible.
"Yes. Is that you Gwen?"
"Achoo! Damn, this old tapestry is dusty. Hi! Listen, Dad has talked, secretly, to Headmaster Everard, who has, of course, kept up with all of the intrigues going on over the years at Hogwarts, so he knows who we are, /and/, I'm pleased to tell you, I have the password."
"Excellent! I know Headmaster Everarh would not reveal the password, unless he trusted that person."
"Well, Dad had to explain that another Muggle was involved, but apparently, that was alright, too."
"The story you've told me about how you came to this house was very enlightening and I'm very proud to be of help to you and Mistress Snape."
"Well, I don't like all of this sneaking around, but I have to be sure this will work before I tell Anna and Cissa; I would hate to get their hopes up for nothing."
"Understandable. Well...let's do this in the time honored fashion, shall we?"
"Definitely, I wouldn't have it any other way."
"Correct; you may enter, fair lady."
"Thank you, Cyrus."
"Oh, and I would thank /you/, also, for the oil on my hinges; that felt wonderful."
"I plan on giving you a good cleaning and waxing, too, once we can get you uncovered."
"Excellent. Well, have a good visit."
"Thanks. Ok, here goes."
The column of stone next to Fawkes' perch cracked along its mortar joints and opened slowly. Gwen stuck her head out and her eyes widened.
"Sweet Mary, Mother of Pearl. So this is Hogwarts," breathed Gwen in a low voice.
It was late at night and she didn't want anyone to hear her, or disturb Headmaster Dumbledore. Just a quick peek and back to the house, now that she knew the connection was still functional.
She stepped out of the stone column and the door closed silently behind her, sealing the seams, totally hidden. She looked to her left and noticed Fawkes, who cocked his head and blinked. She stepped over to his perch.
"You must be Fawkes," she whispered. "I'm Gwen, Christopher's daughter."
Fawkes bowed his head in greeting.
"You are /gorgeous/." Reaching out, she petted the regal bird.
Turning, Gwen waved and tip-toed over to the portrait on the wall.
"It worked, I see. Bravo!"
"Yes, but I'm only staying a minute. I just couldn't resist a quick look around."
"I'm sure Albus won't mind."
Gwen quietly circled the room, peeking in the glass fronted cabinets, looking at the tables full of quirky, twirling, silver instruments; what they were for, heaven only knew. Then glancing up at the portraits of the former Headmasters, all of whom were asleep, she turned full circle, spotting the one exception; Headmaster Everarh, who waved merrily from his frame in the back corner. Gwen blew him a kiss and waved.
Walking over to the Headmaster's desk, she pulled an envelope from her pocket and propped it up where Dumbledore would be sure and see it. Waving to Christopher and Headmaster Everarh, she went back to the stone column, whispered the password and slipped through the secret door, which closed and sealed behind her.
"NO, Bella...we are not going to attack the Hogwarts Express."
Bella lowered her eyes and groveled on the floor at Voldemort's feet.
"That would be too easy and would serve no real purpose. I have a better target in mind, Bella and you will be in charge of the attack, if you learn to mind your tongue!"
"I need to ponder a few minor details and then I will reveal my plan to you...as a Christmas present, perhaps."
"Yes, Master, thank you, Master."
"It never fails to astonish me; as much as I do know about this castle, there's always something new to learn. What I don't quite understand, Everarh, is why you never told me about this secret entrance, especially considering our present circumstances."
"No need, old boy; the door was undiscovered and I would only give the password to those I deemed worthy and then, only if they were associated with Hogwarts. And it has been so long, I doubted if anyone would even find the door, as I imagined the house must have fallen down years ago. It's good to know the old place is still standing and being inhabited by a very lively bunch, if I've been hearing correctly."
"Lively, indeed," agreed Christopher, chuckling. "What did Gwen say in the letter, Albus, if you don't mind sharing?"
"No, not at all; let me see," said Dumbledore, as he picked up the note Gwen had left and adjusted his glasses.
Dear Professor Dumbledore,
I know this is the last thing you expected to see on your desk this morning, but "I know something you don't know!" Ha! Ha! I'm sorry; I couldn't resist that old line.
I must explain that I found a door, here, where we are hiding that, low and behold, leads to your office. I understand that you knew nothing of this hidden passage into Hogwarts and I'm not going to tell you where this end is, as that would give away our secret, wouldn't it?
Let's just say, this will make things a lot easier when we have to transport the 'Felix' potion.
I also want to talk to you about a possible visit, at Christmas, as it would be such a morale boost for Cissa and Anna, and Draco and Severus, too. And maybe, it could be arranged for Remus to be there, also? Hint! Hint!
May I come and talk to you, tonight, at say midnight, as I know everyone is asleep here at that hour? Just let Dad know and he'll tell me your decision.
Looking forward to seeing you again,
Ginny was walking back to the castle after Quidditch practice when she saw Draco Malfoy headed in the direction of Hagrid's hut. Curious, she veered off the path and crossed the sloping lawn to intercept him.
"Hi, Draco," she called when she had almost closed the distance between them.
Draco looked up, startled.
"Oh! Hi, Ginny. Practice over with then?"
"Yeah, bit windy, but we had a good session. What're you doing down here, are the unicorns back?"
"No; just taking a walk. They've gone back into the Forest, but Hagrid says they'll show up if their food supply gets too low this winter. Narcissa is growing really quickly, too. Did you get a chance to see her?"
"Yes, I came down one afternoon. She's a little beauty, isn't she?"
"Yeah, she is now, but she was a right bloody mess when she got hurt in the summer."
"I understand you were a good assistant, holding her and calming her and all."
"Hagrid's been bragging on you a bit; seems to think you'd be good with magical creatures, if you'd a mind to try it."
"Really? Humm, it was interesting enough, that's true but I don't know about handling all of them, as easily as Hagrid does. His size is a definite plus."
"Isn't that the truth!"
Ginny looked at Draco, who seemed a little preoccupied, gazing down and frowning slightly.
"What's the matter, Draco?"
He glanced at Ginny and smiled a little, shaking his head.
"I'm that transparent, am I?"
"Well, you're not your usual...shall we say, 'glib' self. Anything I can do?"
"No, I'm just a little down in the dumps, is all; it's getting close to the holidays and I'm going to be here and Mother and my sister are...who knows where, and it's going to be a very strange Christmas. I'm just feeling a little sorry for myself, I guess."
"Everybody gets in a blue mood at some time or other. It'll pass, trust me. You've been through a lot, but you've survived and we'll all get through the next few months, together, and then we can get on with our lives, in peace; once Voldemort's history."
"I know you're right, Ginny, it's just...I wish I had someone here with me, to...to...well, put their arms around me and tell me everything will be fine. Know what I mean?"
"Yes, Draco, I do. Harry tried to push me away, to keep me from being singled out by Voldemort, when he attacks, but I wouldn't let him. He needs that kind of reassurance, too, whether he realizes it or not. So I can see where you might need someone, yourself. Pansy would have understood, and I don't know if you believe this or not, Draco, but she's still here with you. You know she'd be right by your side, if she could, so the next best thing is to believe she's standing right there, now, watching and listening. Talk to her; it'll make you feel better, being able to voice what's in your heart. /But/, just to get you started out of the dumps..." Ginny held out her arms.
Draco turned to regard Ginny. He smiled and then put his arms around her and hugged her, and then he kissed her on her forehead and stepped back.
"Thanks Ginny, that meant a lot. Oh, and don't tell Harry I gave you a hug and a kiss, we've just gotten on good speaking terms, I don't need him hexing me into next Tuesday!"
"Just the fact that a Malfoy was hugging a Weasley is enough to get us both hexed. Ha! Ha! Hexes, first, questions, second."
"Right. Ok, I won't tell if you don't; deal?"
The clock struck the hour.
"Oh, dear, I'd better hurry and change or I'll be late for dinner. See you late, Draco." She turned and hurried off toward the castle.
"See you, Ginny and thanks!" Draco called after her.
She waved her hand over her head.
It was almost midnight and Gwen was walking down the stairs as quietly as she could. As she stepped toward the tapestry, Cissa emerged from the kitchen, tea cup in hand.
"AH!" Gwen jumped and spun around. "Oh, jeez; you scared the willies out of me, Cissa!" She put her hand over her heart, gasping for breath. "I thought you were up stairs, asleep."
"Felt the need for a cup'a," Cissa replied, holding up her steaming drink. "What are you doing wandering around at this hour? Can't sleep?"
"Well, yeah, I ah...was...ah... "
"You, young lady, are a terrible liar, so stop right there. What's going on?"
Gwen took a deep breath and then let it out in a rush, shoulders drooping.
"Ok, here's the deal; I'm working on a surprise for you and Anna, for Christmas, but I have to sneak around at night, so you two don't find out. So much for that working."
"I see. Well, in that case, I am going to my room; I didn't see you, we never spoke and I know nothing about a surprise." Cissa turned and started up the stairs, but stopped and looked over her shoulder. "Not even a hint?"
Gwen shook her head and pointed up the stairs.
"Damn!" Cissa giggled and continued on her way.
Gwen waited until she heard the bedroom door close, then lifted the tapestry and scooted under it.
The bulge under the tapestry disappeared and the hallway was once again empty.
"Professor Dumbledore, it's so good to see you again!" exclaimed Gwen as she threw her arms around Albus and gave him a big hug.
"And you've begun to think like our Anna; sneaking around late at night with secret plans!" replied Dumbledore, as he returned the hug and then held Gwen at arms length, grinning mischievously, eyes twinkling.
"HA! And you, sir, are the brat Anna warned me about, too."
"Guilty, I'm afraid. Welcome to Hogwarts, or at least my office."
"Thank you and I suddenly realized something...why can I see everything? I thought Muggles only saw a ruin."
"Ah, but you are inside/, past the charms and wards, so you are unaffected. Plus, you know about this old pile of stone we call Hogwarts and you know that the Magical world really /does exist."
"Good, because I think otherwise, I'd be standing hundreds of feet up, on thin air, high above the mountain and I'd flip out, to say the least."
"Indeed! Well, have a seat, won't you, and let us consider your ideas for your Christmas surprise."
"Ok, you two, sit right there," Gwen instructed, pointing to the hall bench. "We'll finish decorating the tree in a minute."
Cissa and Anna were giving her strange looks as they seated themselves. Eileen drifted in and settled onto a nearby chair, smiling.
"Eileen, do you know what she's up to?" asked Anna, noting the looks that the ghost and Gwen were exchanging.
"Of course," she replied. "I can keep secrets, too, you know."
"Is this your Christmas surprise?" Cissa inquired. "It's not quite Christmas, yet."
"You knew, too?" Anna turned and looked at Cissa.
"Just that she was planning a surprise for us, surprise being the operative word, because if I knew what it is, it wouldn't be a surprise, would it?" Cissa crossed her arms and cocked her head.
"Shush!" Gwen scolded them, and then walked over to the tapestry. "Ta Da!" She gave it a tug, it slid off the hanging pole and the door was revealed.
"Not just any door, girls; a very special door. On the other side is.... /Albus' office at Hogwarts/!"
"I found it by accident and the door keeper told me where it led, but I needed the password."
"Eileen, did you know about this?" Anna asked.
"No; never realized it was behind that old rag, as it was here when we moved in. As a part of the sale we were told it had to remain hanging there, so, I never touched it. I was as astonished as Gwen when we discovered it."
"But how do we get the password?" Cissa asked as she rose and walked over to inspect the door.
"I've got it! That's my Christmas present; we're going to Hogwarts for a visit tomorrow/, but, just a short visit, as we can't let anyone know we have access to the school. That's the promise I gave Albus, so that we could use it to surprise Severus and Draco and Remus. We'll be waiting for them in the Room of Requirement and have a private visit together. They won't have /any idea how we got there and we won't tell them, either. Deal?"
"Deal!" Anna stood up and studied the door.
"Deal! Oh, Gwen, thank you!" Cissa threw her arms around Gwen and hugged her. "I promise not to tell. Oh, I get to see my son tomorrow! This is the best Christmas present you could have given us!"
"I'm speechless, Gwen," said Anna, as she waddled over to give her step-daughter a hug and kiss. "I can't wait to see the look on Severus' face."
"I just hope you fit through," teased Gwen. She ducked the slap on the arm Anna aimed at her, giggling.
"I'll fit, don't you worry about that, smartie!"
"Well, anyway, technical difficulties aside, let me introduce you to our door keeper... Cyrus?"
The little trapdoor popped open and the eyeball looked around at the women.
"Good afternoon, Cyrus. Let me introduce you. This is Anna Snape and this is Narcissa Malfoy. Eileen you've already met."
"Ladies, it is my pleasure. I'm looking forward to serving you."
"Hello, Cyrus." "Pleased to meet you, too, Cyrus."
"A brief history, girls; Cyrus was put there a few hundred years ago by a former Headmaster of Hogwarts, who disliked Apparating home. He also despised using the Floo Network/, so he installed a '/Passage Door' and then hid it, until such time as someone worthy should need it."
"So, we passed the worthiness test, I'm assuming?" Anna smiled at the eyeball.
"Correct, Mistress Snape."
"Mistress Snape, doesn't that sound posh?" Cissa observed.
"Oh, hush!" Anna giggled. "I certainly don't feel posh, just puffy."
"Oh, and another thing; this is going to make delivering the 'Felix' potion SO much easier," Gwen told them.
"Well, it's a good thing you finished bottling it yesterday. You'll just have to wheel it through the door and distribute it, then. Easy as pie," observed Eileen.
"Oh, dear," gasped Anna, turning to Eileen. "You won't be able to go with us, will you?"
"No, dear; if I came, it would give everything away. But soon you'll be bringing Severus here, so I can wait patiently to see my son; a few more months time is not that long." Eileen smiled sweetly. "Really, it's quite alright."
"Ok, then." Gwen rubbed her hands together. "Now, here's the plan that Albus and I worked out. While everyone is relaxing after their Christmas breakfast, Albus will excuse himself and come to accompany us to the Room of Requirement and then bring the guys up and we'll have an hour to visit, before anyone starts asking about their absence. Then we'll go back to Albus' office and come home. That way, they don't know how we got there, thus keeping our whereabouts secret and keeping them safe."
"Only an hour?"
"Yes, that's the maximum. Better than no visit, so we'll make the most of it, ok?"
"Very well, Gwen." "Agreed."
"Now, Cyrus, as your Christmas present," said Gwen, turning to the door. "I promised you a clean up and a waxing, so let me get my supplies and I'll get started."
"Oh, splendid...thank you. Happy Christmas, everyone!"
"Happy Christmas!" the ladies all chorused.
It was a small group that gathered at the round, communal table for dinner on Christmas Eve in the Great Hall. The only students left were Ron and Ginny, Hermione, Harry and Draco. The staff members had all gone off for the holiday, except for Headmaster Dumbledore, Professors McGonagall, Snape, Flitwick, Sprout and Trelawney. Madam Pomfrey and Hagrid had also opted to stay over the holiday at Hogwarts. Remus Lupin and Tonks had joined them, at Dumbledore's invitation, which cheered up the students quite a bit.
Dean, Seamus, Neville and Luna had left, reluctantly, but Seamus and Neville were taking the train from London to Liverpool, after the four did a little Christmas shopping. Of course, this meant a stop at the 'Blue Plate Special', before Seamus caught the ferry to Ireland and Neville Apparated home.
Draco had even been invited, by Harry and Ron, to bunk in the Gryffindor boys' dorm room; to keep him from being all by himself in the dungeons. He had raised an eyebrow, but then 'grumbling' about all the stairs he'd have to climb, agreed.
Ginny and Hermione rolled their eyes. "Boys!" "Yeah."
"The school has received some packages, containing your Christmas presents, from various locations, and I thought it would be much more cheerful and festive if we all met here in the Great Hall tomorrow morning, to open our gifts as a group, just after breakfast. The more the merrier, don't you think?" Albus looked around the table, to see everyone's reaction.
"I think that would be great fun, Professor," said Harry. "Reminds me of the total chaos I was involved in last year. Right, Remus?"
"Indeed!" Shaking his head, Remus grinned at the memories. "Controlled demolition at its best, Harry."
"We saw the magnificent tree and decorations at Anastasia's last year, but there was no evidence of destruction; whatever do you mean, Remus?" asked Severus, earning him a double take from most of the people gathered at the table.
"Should we enlighten everybody, Harry?"
"Sure. The whole sordid tale?"
"Why not? It would be fair warning for anyone who gets caught up in Anna's Christmas 'traditions', in future."
"Well, let's start at the beginning, shall we?"
"Right, the lists or your arrival?!"
"The lists, I think."
The rest of the meal passed pleasantly as Harry and Remus retold the story of the previous Christmas spent at Anna's townhouse. Laughter and smiles were soon spreading around the table; even Severus snorted and shook his head at some of the antics of his wife.
'I think I'm in serious trouble'/, he thought, '/but I'm going to love every minute of it/. /At least she's safe/, /away from here.' /Looking around at the others seated at the table, he wondered how many would be alive this time /next year. 'If our preparations are sufficient and with a little luck; all of them. Hopefully, I'll survive to see my wife and child and spend next Christmas, and the rest of my life, with them.'
Harry had predicted correctly; the Christmas morning gift opening had been a shambles of torn paper, shouted 'thank yous', laughter, exclamations of delight and admiration, toasts, a delightful breakfast and general holiday cheer. Even Severus pronounced himself grateful for the unexpected gifts bestowed on him by the students.
"Don't think anything of it, Professor," Ron assured him. "Just cut us some slack in Potions, eh?"
"Oh, I see; these were bribes, not gifts."
"Nonsense, Professor," gasped Hermione. "We would never do such a thing, would we, /Ronald/?"
"No...of course not...just a joke, Professor.../really/," stammered Ron, leaning away from Hermione's glare.
"Well, in that case, I shall enjoy reading these, knowing you gave them without an ulterior motive." Severus placed the slim volumes of Shakespeare sonnets on the table, along with a 'Weasley' sweater, sent to him by Molly, a pair of black leather gloves, some homemade cookies, and a box from Anna, which he planned on opening in private. However, the box was shaking, which caused him just the slightest concern; what on earth had the foolish woman sent him?
Ginny noticed the box vibrating and looked up at Severus, perplexed.
"Professor, that box is moving. What's in it?"
"I'm sure I don't know, as I haven't opened it."
"Come on, Severus, open it!" urged Remus. "Don't be a party pooper!"
"Who's it from?" Harry asked.
"There's no tag," mumbled Severus, for the simple reason it had been ripped off and stuffed in his pocket.
"No matter, open it!" urged Professor Dumbledore, eyes twinkling.
'/He knows it's from Ann, damn it/!' thought Severus. '/What the bloody hell has she sent me/?'
Picking up the box, he undid the ribbon and removed the paper. The box was from Weasleys' Wizarding Wheezes. There were small holes in the sides, which didn't bode well in Severus' mind. His eyebrow shot up as he slowly and carefully opened the lid and peeked in.
"What the...of all the..." Severus sputtered as he reached in and removed a Pygmy Puffskein, holding it in the palm of his hand. It purred and turned around full circle, although with all the fur it was impossible to tell which end was the front. That is until the tongue shot out and grabbed a few crumbs from a plate on the table.
"Look everyone, Professor Snape has a Pygmy Puff, just like Arnold," exclaimed Ginny.
Severus was looking positively alarmed as the tiny creature proceeded to climb up his sleeve to his shoulder and settle itself next to his right ear.
"Am I supposed to allow this creature to ride around on my shoulder, as I have seen you do of late, Miss Weasley?"
"Well, when you're in your chambers. But, in the classroom, he'd be better off on your desk. He'll stay if you tell him; they're very obedient."
"How do you know it's a 'he', if I may ask," inquired Severus as he removed the fur ball from his shoulder and inspected it closely. "I can't even find the head."
Almost on cue, the long pink tongue shot out and touched the tip of Severus' nose. Everyone roared with laughter at the shocked look on his face.
"Tha's the front end, Professor," gasped Hagrid, laughing heartily. "From wha' I've heard, none's been able to tell what sex they are, so, name it what ever strikes yer fancy."
"Sure; you have to give it a name!" Ginny sounded almost scandalized that he wouldn't give his new pet a name.
"In that case, I'll have to consider the matter. This is a new experience for me and I really must do it properly."
"You've never had a pet?" Harry asked
"Well neither have I, if you don't count the spiders in the cupboard, so you're one ahead of me." Harry grinned at him.
"I'll try to bear up under the tremendous weight of responsibly that bit of news has been thrust upon me, Potter."
"I wonder who sent it?" Hermione checked the paper for a name.
"I wonder if Fred or George would remember?"
"With all the business they've probably done in the past month, you think they'll remember one Pygmy Puff sale? And they wouldn't have necessarily known it was destined for Severus, in any case," Remus pointed out, reasonably.
"True. Oh, well, it's a cute little thing," said Hermione. "Can I pet it, Professor?"
"Certainly, Miss Granger." Severus handed her the Pygmy Puff, shaking his head. What was his wife thinking when she picked out that little creature for his present?
Cissa shouldered the diaper bag and walked through the door into Albus' office. Anna was looking around, petting Fawkes and waving to Headmaster Everarh, who cheerily waved back. Gwen maneuvered two cases of 'Felix" potion through on her little hand trolley. Then the door closed and sealed.
"Albus will be here any minute," Christopher informed them. "He said to make yourselves at home."
Anna lowered herself gingerly into a chair and heaved a sigh of relief.
"My back is killing me today. I don't think I've stood straight in months and forget being able to find a comfortable way to sit." She shifted a bit. "Carrying two babies isn't for sissies."
"Well, you're due near the end of next month, so it won't be much longer, and then you'll be a lot more comfortable; busy with your twins, but comfortable," Christopher teased her.
"Thanks so much for the encouraging words, 'Uncle" Christopher."
"You're quite welcome. And Happy Christmas, dear."
"Happy Christmas, darling."
"Yes, Happy Christmas, Christopher," agreed Cissa"
"To you, too, Cissa."
"Happy Christmas, Dad."
"Gwen, dear, the same to you. All you all ready?"
"We're shivering with excitement, Dad."
"Speak for yourself, young lady. I wouldn't dare shiver, even if my life depended on it; I might cause an earthquake," Anna replied, chuckling.
Checking his watch, Albus rose from the table.
"If you all will excuse me for a bit, there's something I have to see to. I'll be back in a few minutes."
Albus Dumbledore entered his office.
"Happy Christmas, ladies!"
"Albus!" "Hello! Happy Christmas!" "Headmaster! Hello!"
Dumbledore gave each of the ladies a kiss, beaming at them.
"No difficulties, I'm assuming?"
"It was a tight fit, but I made it." Anna put her hand up to her mouth and stage whispered to him.
They all laughed.
"Professor, let me introduce you to my daughter," Cissa said, as she held up the three month old baby for his inspection. "Lyn, this is Professor Dumbledore, an old friend of Mummy's."
"I'm very pleased to meet you, Lyn." Albus bowed to the tiny girl, who waved her arms and smiled, reaching for his beard.
"Look out, Albus; she'll yank out whole tufts of your magnificent beard, if she gets a good grip!" Anna warned.
Pulling his long whiskers out of harm's way, he used the end to tickle the baby on her cheeks. She squealed and giggled.
"You're a hit, 'Uncle' Albus!" Gwen laughed, as did the others.
"So it would seem. Well, shall we toddle down to the Room of Requirement? Anna, dear, let me assist you."
He helped her rise for her seat and the little group made their way to the seventh floor corridor and into the Room of Requirement.
"Oh, Albus, it's lovely!" Anna exclaimed. "Where ever did you get such a huge tree?"
"It was in the Hufflepuff common room; I borrowed it and enlarged it, just a bit. I thought it would be fun if you three hid behind it and popped out to surprise your gentlemen."
"Excellent." Gwen clapped her hands. "Just like 'White Christmas'; all we need are our knights in shining armor."
"I'll go get them, then. It will be about fifteen minutes, I should think, before we return."
"We'll be right here."
"Oh, I have no doubt of that, no doubt what so ever," he chuckled as he closed the door.
Albus Dumbledore returned to the Great Hall to find everyone relaxing, chatting and trying out their new 'toys'; Harry, Draco, Ron were shooting darts, with Hagrid in charge of the scoreboard. Ginny, Tonks and Hermione were playing cards. "UNO!" Remus was sitting with Severus looking at the books each had received, while Severus' new pet was exploring the table, feasting on bits and pieces of toast and cookie crumbs. Minerva, Sybil, Filius, Pomona and Poppy were enjoying their second cups of coffee. He walked over to Remus and Severus and whispered to the two men, who nodded and putting down their gifts, stood and walked out of the Hall.
Dumbledore came over to the darts game and stood and watched as the boys took their turns. Then he stepped forward.
"I hate to interrupt, but could I borrow Mr. Malfoy for a few minutes? He'll be back soon, I promise."
Harry and Ron looked at each other and shrugged.
"Sure, take him, Professor, he was beating us rather badly, so you're saving us further embarrassment," Harry informed him.
"Ok, then, you lot practice and I'll give you another chance in a bit, eh?" Draco put down his darts and followed Albus out the door.
"See you later, then," called Ron. Turning, he took a shot. "Crikey, I'm awful at this, aren't I?"
"Well, I'm not exactly on the local pub team, myself, you know," replied Harry as he stepped up to the line and took aim.
The Headmaster emerged from the Great Hall with Draco and started up the stairs. Severus and Remus, who had been waiting at the base of the staircase, fell into step behind them. Draco thought it prudent not to ask questions, so they climbed in silence. As the group headed down the corridor on the seventh floor, a realization of where they might be heading caused Draco to look over his shoulder at Lupin and Snape. Remus shrugged, obviously as much in the dark as to the purpose of this trip as Draco. Severus shot Remus, then Draco a puzzled look, also.
Stopping at the door to the Room of Requirement, Albus grasped the knob, smiled at them and opening the door, ushered them through.
"Happy Christmas," he said as he shut the door behind them.
The room had been transformed into a family parlor, complete with fireplace, soft cushy sofas and chairs and at the end stood a huge Christmas tree. Then, to their utter surprise, Gwen, Anna and Narcissa walked out from behind the Christmas tree.
"Happy Christmas!" they chorused, "Surprise!"
Gwen broke into a run and flew into Remus' arms. He spun her around and then smothered her with kisses.
Draco looked, open mouthed, at his Mother. He saw that she was holding a baby in her arms as she approached him.
"Come and meet your sister, darling." Narcissa beamed, holding the baby so Draco could see her.
He walked toward her, never taking his eyes off of that little face. He stopped, still staring.
"She's awfully small."
"So were you at this age."
Draco looked up.
He put his arm around her and gave her a kiss on the cheek and squeezed her shoulder.
"Hello, darling boy," Cissa replied, returning his kiss. "I'd like to introduce you to Miss Gwendolyn Anastasia Malfoy. I call her Lyn."
Draco looked down at the tiny baby girl waving her arms. Reaching out, he jumped when she grabbed one of his fingers.
"Hey, hey, hey!" he exclaimed, as the baby, with surprising strength, pulled his finger to her mouth, popped it in and started sucking on it. Narcissa laughed.
"She's at that stage where everything goes straight into her mouth."
Slightly alarmed, Draco gently pulled his finger free, but froze when his little sister looked up at him and smiled.
"She smiled at me!" he exclaimed, astonished.
"Of course; she smiles a lot. She's a very good baby; sleeps through the night, too."
"Is that good?"
"She doesn't have any teeth."
Narcissa laughed again. "They'll show up soon enough."
Looking up from her daughter, she caught sight of Anna and Severus and froze.
Draco looked over his shoulder.
Gwen and Remus had also become aware of the fact that Anna and Severus hadn't moved an inch; they seemed suspended in time at the instant they'd seen each other. Complete silence descended on the room. Even little Lyn lay quiet in her Mother's arms.
"How could you?" Severus hissed, his face thunderous, his fists clenched.
"Wasn't my idea, but I did agree," Anna answered in a deadly calm voice.
"You're jeopardizing /everything/."
"For one hour, I doubt it seriously."
"The point of you going into hiding was keeping you safe/! It's too dangerous for you to be /here/, for /all of you!"
"Fine. I'll leave. Gwen, Cissa, enjoy you visit. I'll see you later."
She waddled past Severus, heading for the door.
"Severus, don't be a damn /fool/! Stop her!" Cissa scolded him.
Looking over at Draco, his Mother and sister, then at Remus and Gwen with their arms around each other, he shook his head, eyes flashing.
"/Men/! Draco, hold Lyn. Anna!" Narcissa called, as she handed the baby to Draco, who, wide eyed, clumsily settled the squirming bundle in his arms.
"I'll drop her!"
Narcissa popped out of the door into the hallway and a moment later dragged a reluctant Anna back to face Severus. Draco's eyes widened as he saw how obviously pregnant Anna was.
'/What the/?' he thought '/No! It can't be/!'
"Now." Narcissa turned to face Severus. "Apologize to Anna, this instant/, Severus Snape. /That's an /order/!"
"How dare you?" he growled.
"I dare /because I've come to understand a lot of things in the last year and one thing that made me /very happy was that you two were finally together."
Severus looked away from Anna to stare at Narcissa. She heaved a big sigh.
"Oh, for heaven's sake/, Severus, I've know since we were in /school that you loved Anna. Now is not the time to get all huffy; so get down off of your high horse. She's risked a lot and given up even more for you /and /your children."
Severus started, turned, looked at Anna, then back at Cissa. "What did you say? Children?"
Narcissa took hold of Severus' hand and placed it on Anna's enormous belly.
"Severus, meet you children. Anna's going to have twins."
Just then one of the babies kicked and Severus' eyes popped wide open. He tried to pull his hand away, but Narcissa held on tight and reaching out, took one of Anna's hands and laid it on top of his.
"Now, you two kiss and make up and then go and sit down and chat. We only have an hour, so don't waste any more time being stubborn. And I'm talking to both of you!"
Narcissa turned, walked over to Draco and retrieving the baby, steered her son to a nearby sofa to sit and visit. Gwen and Remus drifted off to a corner sofa to talk quietly.
Anna looked up into Severus' eyes, tears hanging from her lashes.
"I'm sorry, Severus, you're right, it was foolish to risk this visit. But we...Albus..." she drifted to a halt.
"Twins?" It was barely a whisper.
"Yes." She gave him a small smile.
The babies rolled around and Anna laughed at the expression on Severus' face.
"They heard you. They can't wait to meet you, it would seem. Kids," speaking to her tummy. "This is your Daddy. Severus, these are you children."
Severus removed his hand from her swollen belly and cupped her chin, tilting her face up to his.
"You foolish woman, I love you."
He bent and kissed her gently, then gathered her in his arms, as best he could and kissed her again.
"I feel like a hippo!" Anna growled out of the side of her mouth. Severus stopped kissing her and laughed out loud. Then, taking her hand he led her over to the nearest armchair.
"Gladly." Anna lowered herself into the chair and sighed. "I wish it was next month."
"I'm due in a month, but maybe I'll have them earlier, if I'm lucky."
Severus pulled a chair over and sat next to her. He was about to say something when he sat up straight and whirled around.
"/Narcissa/! What the bloody hell are you doing with...oh, no...don't tell me." He turned to Anna, who was grinning from ear to ear. "You! You're her Secret Keeper!"
"You betcha! Who else could she trust?"
Severus slapped his forehead and looked over at Remus, who shrugged and shook his head.
"I'd never have guessed, Severus."
"It was bloody brilliant of Albus, don't you think?"
Severus hung his head, shook it and looked up at Anna.
"Well, Mrs. Snape, I will have to..."
"/Hold on/! Did you just say /Mrs/. Snape?" Draco was staring intently at them.
"You caught that, did you, Draco?" Anna smiled at him.
"/Seriously/?" Draco stood and walked over. "You two are /married/?"
"Yes, Draco; as of a half an hour before the Closing Feast, last spring."
"Let's see. Harry, Ron, Neville, Ginny, Hermione and Luna. And Albus, of course. But the kids had a memory charm done, for their own safety. Remus knows, too, but doesn't remember, for the same reason."
"That's what Albus made me forget!" Remus chuckled.
"So, now just the six of us and Albus. But, he'll be doing a memory charm on you after our visit, so enjoy it while you can."
"I think it's hysterical! You two! HA! Congratulations!" He leaned over and kissed Anna's cheek and shook Severus' hand. Returning to his seat, he looked at them, put his head back and roared with laughter.
"What, exactly, is so funny, Mr.Mal..." Severus started.
"Severus, let him alone. He won't remember." Anna put her hand on his arm. "We've got more important things to discuss."
"Names for our children."
"How about Christopher and Severus Jr., if they're boys and Alice and Eileen, if they're girls?" she suggested.
"Why Alice and Eileen?"
"After our Mothers, of course."
"I agree; those names are just fine with me."
"Thank you, darling."
He leaned over and kissed her. "I've missed you, /terribly/."
"And I've missed you, too. But, what has to be done, we'll do, to keep everyone safe." She put her hand on his cheek. "How are things here at Hogwarts, really? Getting little bits and pieces of news from Christopher isn't giving us the whole picture, I'm sure."
"It's been quiet, too quiet for my liking. He'll make another move, /soon/. I think we're as ready as can be expected. Your D.A. is our best bet for disrupting any attack. They're always practicing and planning."
"I hope this will be of some help." Anna waved her wand and the boxes floated over.
"What is it?"
"Doses of 'Felix" potion; some for the D.A., Draco, the Order, and the staff who are helping with the defenses. If an attack starts, everyone should swallow one dose, that'll be good for about four hours. We have more stored at our place. We're waiting for the carrying pouches from Fred and George, which they are sending as soon as the holiday rush is over."
"Where did you ever?"
"I was just leafing through an old potions book and...Bingo...there was the recipe. Narcissa started preparing the ingredients and we have been brewing it since I went into hiding. Only just got it bottled in time to bring with us today."
"Do you really think...?"
"Couldn't hurt, might help. Just make sure the D.A. understand its importance. They'll listen to you when they know I sent it."
"Will they believe me?"
"Harry will and there's a note in the box from me. That will seal the deal."
"I'm suddenly very glad we're on the same side in this war. You're too sneaky by half, you devious wench."
"I don't feel very wench like, more like a beached whale. Want a good laugh? Watch me try to get out of this chair!"
"Stop! Sit still you silly woman. I will not laugh at you; I just want to kiss you."
Leaning over, he took her mind off of her shape for several minutes, until the babies shifted and Anna gasped.
"Ow!" Patting her tummy, she scolded, "Stop kicking Mummy!"
Severus put his hand out to feel the movement again and Anna smiled as she watched his face show all of the fleeting emotions: surprise, wonder, amazement, happiness, sadness and love.
Draco laughing interrupted both of their thoughts. He was bouncing his sister on his lap and she was trying to maneuver his wand handle into her mouth.
"Oh, no you don't; definitely not the wand."
Everyone laughed. Anna and Cissa exchanged looks and smiled warmly at each other. But a little sadness crept into both of their eyes. They knew the peace and togetherness was fleeting. Soon this would be another memory to cling to. Too soon.
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