"Well, well, well...look what the cat dragged in..."
"So, what do you think?" Anna watched Severus as he descended the stairs, his first day out of bed, looking around at his old home and the changes that had been made by the three women.
"It certainly has a lighter, airy feeling about it, not the gloomy place I remember," Severus replied as he came to the last step. He turned and looked at the door, hidden under the ancient tapestry for so long. "Ah, ha, the /Passage Door/. Should I?" he asked, lifting an eyebrow as he approached.
"Yes, just knock and Cyrus will be there." Anna came and stood by his side.
/Knock, knock/. The little door panel popped open and Cyrus' eyeball looked at Severus and then Anna.
"Good morning, Mistress Snape."
"Good morning Cyrus."
"Who is this?"
"My husband and the owner of this house, Professor Severus Snape. Severus, I believe you know Cyrus."
"I do indeed."
"What?" Cyrus looked at Severus and squinted. "You've been here before?"
"Yes. If you think back about 30 years or so, you'll remember me," Severus informed him.
The eyeball looked up and down at Severus and then grew wide, as he remembered all those years ago.
"You! You're that little boy who used to hide under my tapestry and wiggle my latch, trying to get through! Good heavens! You've grown!"
"And here's the best part, Cyrus, Severus teaches Potions at Hogwarts!" Anna added, putting her arms around Severus' waist.
"Really? How fortuitous!"
"Yes, now when I try your latch, I know where it leads and will make good use of the connection, I assure you."
"Do you know the password?" Cyrus said, with a glance at Anna, followed by a wink.
"Actually, no. But Anna will give it to me, won't you, my dear?"
"IF you behave and get your rest AND do as I say, until your head is totally healed...I /might/." Anna gazed up at the husband, batting her eyelashes, a big innocent look on her face.
"IF /I/ BEHAVE?" Severus roared, "This is my home, woman and I want the bloody password!"
"That's all I needed to hear you say, dearest, 'this is my home.' SO, you really like what we did?"
Severus was flabbergasted. He stared at Anna and then put his head back and laughed.
"Conniving wench!" He put his arms around her and kissed her. "Yes, darling, this is our home and I love what you've done for the old place. The entire dreary atmosphere is gone and it truly feels like a new house. I think the Snape family will be very happy here. All the bad memories are gone; it's a new start, for good memories, for us."
"That's the password."
"So, let's go into the kitchen and have some breakfast, shall we? See you later, Cyrus."
"Certainly. Welcome back, young Severus."
"Thank you, Cyrus, it is good to be home."
Holding Anna's hand, Severus turned and headed for the back of the house. When he reached the kitchen, he stopped and surveyed the room, eyebrows raised. Gone were the blackened cauldrons and pans, dreary drapes, wobbly old table and mismatched, cracked crockery.
Before him was a cheery room with brightly colored cafÃ© curtains, shining pots and pans hanging from a rack over a new work table by the fireplace, which now contained a gleaming enameled stove. The breakfast table was set with attractive matching china and the cutlery and glassware sparkled.
Anna pulled him over to the table and pointed to the chair at the end.
"Yours, dear; head of the family, head chair at the table."
Severus lowered himself slowly onto the cushioned seat as he continued to look around. Winky and Dobby were bustling about and they both turned to smile at him.
"Good morning, Professor."
"Good morning, Dobby."
"Good morning, Professor, here is your coffee. What is you wanting for breakfast?" Winky deposited a mug in front of him and waited expectantly.
"Good morning, Winky, and thank you. Ah, well, some toast and jam for starters, I think, while I get some of this coffee down my throat and I'll think about the rest."
"Yes, sir. And you, Missy Anna?" Winky swung her gaze around to her Mistress, as Dobby handed Anna her steaming mug.
"Thank you, Dobby. Winky, I'll have the usual, I think. The children will be waking soon, so I better eat quickly."
"Yes, Missy Anna."
Severus was still gazing around, finding more to look at, when Cissa came into the room, Lyn on her hip. She deposited the little blond copy of herself in her highchair, took her coffee mug from Dobby and plopped down opposite Anna.
"Thank you Dobby. Morning," she grumbled.
"Good morning Narcissa."
"Cissa, you look a little worse for the wear; what's wrong?" Anna looked at her, puzzled.
"Lyn's teething, and was up for about an hour in the middle of the bloody night. I got her back to sleep but it took forever for me to drift off. I'm taking a nap when she does, or I'll be a zombie by tonight."
"Oh, goodie, something to look forward to," sighed Anna. "Teething."
"How do you like what we've done to the place, Severus," asked Cissa, turning to him, elbow on the table, chin in hand, bleary eyed, slowly stirring her coffee.
"I haven't been in all the rooms yet, but what I've seen so far has been a delightful surprise; it hardly seems the same place."
"Good, that's one worry gone, huh, Anna?" She looked across at Anna and winked.
"You better believe it." Anna nodded.
Gwen shuffled in and plopped down, holding out her hand. Dobby produced her coffee mug and she took a big gulp before trying to focus on the others.
"Gwen." "Morning." "Rough night?"
"Yeah, I kept having this dream that something was humming and I know there's nothing electrical in this house and I couldn't figure out if it was a dream or I was really hearing something. Then I found this." She pulled Noel out of her bathrobe pocket and put it on the table. "It was perched on my pillow, right above my head and was trying to stick its tongue up my nose! What the hell IS this thing, besides /yours/, Severus? It scared the willies out of me!"
Anna and Cissa burst into laughter as Severus reached out and picked up the Pygmy Puffskein and deposited it on his shoulder.
"Sorry, Gwen, I should have explained about Noel. That's what Puffskeins do; they're especially adept at keeping your nasal passages free from...shall we say, excess debris."
"Oh, gross/! /That's a lovely picture at the breakfast table."
"Well, you asked," Cissa giggled. "Wizarding children love them and they are found in almost every Wizarding household." Lyn was watching Noel and clapping her hands. "No, Missy, you're too young, you'll hurt Noel. When you're older I'll get you one." But turning to look at Severus, Cissa asked," Could I borrow her, occasionally, though?"
"Certainly, anytime, if Noel doesn't find her way into the nurseries unaided."
"Noel...happy hunting somewhere else, ok?" Gwen leaned over and jerked her thumb at Lyn.
Noel sat, humming contentedly on Severus' shoulder, pink tongue zipping in and out, checking Severus' ear.
Later, Severus and Anna were sitting in the nursery, each holding one of the twins, rocking them to sleep for their morning naps. Putting the infants down in their cribs, they stood, arms around each other, gazing down at their son and daughter.
"I could stand here and watch them all day," Severus whispered. "It's still hard for me to believe I'm a father."
"I know. I was like that for the first week or so, but then the 2 AM feedings brought that reality home."
"Wish I could help you with that, but..."
"Oh, you can; you'll be changing nappies on one while I feed the other. It'll be a family thing."
"Ah...well...you'll have to show me what to do."
"It's not brain surgery, Severus, it's a nappy."
"Right...lovely...looking forward to it."
"If I can deal with Longbottom's odiferous disasters in my Potions lab, I can handle a soiled nappy."
"Point taken. Speaking of Potions, I wonder how Gran is doing with your classes."
"It is my fervent hope that some of the students are re-evaluating their opinion of me, as we speak. I would not be thrilled to have Augusta Longbottom standing over me as I tried to do my work, and /I /know what I'm doing in a Potions lab."
Anna started to giggle, but thought better of it and pushed Severus out the door of the nursery, closing the door behind her.
"Will we hear them if they wake, with the door closed?"
"If we don't, Winky will, so don't worry. And to finish your grand tour, how'd you like to see the master bedroom?"
"Saving the best for last, eh? I was wondering when you'd get around to it." Severus bent and kissed her. "Lead the way. Should I cover my eyes?"
"No. I hope you like what I did."
"I have not found fault with any of your decorating, so far, so I expect our room to be just as well planned and executed."
Anna led the way down the hall and opening the door, stood to one side to let Severus enter first. He'd expected more of the light, airy feel found in the rest of the house, but was stunned to find dark, muted colors and rich, warm textured fabrics used to create an atmosphere of definite masculinity.
Grey carpet and hunter green drapes were off set by a paisley pattern, that had burgundy, hunter green, grey and silver in its pattern, on the bed linens and the upholstery of one of the chairs. The furniture, he recognized, was the same Anna had used for her rooms at Hogwarts and it fit the proportions of the room perfectly.
She came up behind him and whispered in his ear, "You like?"
"Well...I don't know...it's missing something."
"What?" Anna came around him and looked up at him, perplexed.
"You...naked on the bed, my dear."
"Oh...that. No problem." She flicked her wand and both of them were standing there, sans clothes.
" 'Colloportus'." Severus growled, then tossing his wand on the chair, picked Anna up and carried her to the bed, where her laid her down gently and joined her.
Slipping her arms around him, she whispered, "Welcome home, my love."
"Yes, I am home, aren't I? Oh, does this mean I get to move from my invalid, sickroom into here?"
"Oh, yes; you're sufficiently healed, darling." She wiggled against him, smiling. "Totally healthy, /but/, just in case, how about we do some physical therapy?"
"I could see the benefit to that." Severus growled into her neck.
"Worked wonders for me...remember?"
"Indeed I do."
"Welcome back, Severus, to your home and my arms. I love you."
"I love you, too, Anna...my wife...my life."
It was Saturday and Ron, Hermione and at least one Prefect (D.A. member) from each House, were escorting a handful of students for a quick trip to Hogsmeade. It had snowed again and there was a fresh blanket of sparkling white covering the road. The wind had died down and a strangely silent, peaceful mood had descended on the school grounds.
The students stayed together in groups of four or more as they visited the shops, replenishing their school supplies and stocking up at /Honeydukes/. As they all headed back to the school, Ron and Hermione stood outside the gates and did a headcount.
"Ok, everybody's back and through the gates." Hermione breathed a sigh of relief, as she watched the other students making their way up the snow covered road to the warm haven of the castle. "It's sad that we have to act like this."
Ron was standing there, leaning on the fence, absently studying the drift patterns the wind had made on the snow the previous evening.
"You know; having to always watch out for trouble, being afraid of someone attacking us, only being safe inside the school grounds."
"Yeah, it's a bloody drag, /but/..." Ron pushed himself away from the fence and started to turn toward Hermione when he froze.
"What?" Hermione looked around, seeing nothing but snowdrifts and snow covered shrubbery.
Ron held up his hand for silence and walked a few paces, looking down, and then turning; he grabbed Hermione by the arm and dragged her through the gates.
"Ron! What in the...?"
"We have to get up to the school. Now!"
"What did you see, Ron?" Hermione whispered.
"Wormtail's footprints," he whispered back, urgently."
"Are you sure?" Hermione glanced over her shoulder.
"After tracking Scabbers for years when he'd hide from Fred and George...I know what his paw prints look like, 'mione; he's missing a toe, remember?"
They picked up their pace and made in into the main hall in record time; out of breath, stamping their feet.
"I'm going to the Headmaster." Ron started up the stairs.
"Should I come?" asked Hermione, taking off her scarf.
"No." Ron stopped and turned back to look at her, a grim smile on his face. "Go find Crookshanks; I'm about to make up for every nasty thing I ever said about him."
Hermione's eyes got wide, and then she grinned and turning, ran off to Gryffindor Tower.
"You feel sure he's hiding out there, even now, Mister Weasley?"
"Yes, sir; his tracks were fresh. In fact, he crossed the road while we were in Hogsmeade. I could see where he had walked and jumped over and through the tracks we'd made going into the village. He could have heard me, but knowing what a coward he is, he probably isn't that close to the road. Staying out of sight, but close enough to see who comes and goes."
"Indeed. So, what are you proposing we do?" Dumbledore asked, indicating Ron should take a seat as he leaned back in his own chair, waiting.
"I think Crookshanks and Professor McGonagall should go catch him and bring his worthless carcass back here. Alive, I mean, not dead." Ron flopped down in one of the chairs facing Albus' desk.
"Succinct, but my thoughts, exactly." The Headmaster, smiled. "The real question, though, is; what should we do with him once we have him in custody?"
"First, find out what happened to Snape...."
"If he knows /anything/," Ron continued, "great. If not, try to find out as much as we can about Voldemort's plans. Then...send him back with a note tied to his tail. Nothing flowery, just 'Hi, how are you, cuppa tea? have a nice day'; something simple."
"I don't think Peter would fare too well as a message delivery rat. Better we should obtain what information we can, and then I'll do a memory modification on him. We'll return him to the gates and let Crookshanks chase him a bit but let him escape; scared out of his wits, remembering only his close call."
That way..." Ron was liking this plan more and more, "...we could always snatch him later and get an update of what's being planned."
"Precisely. Professor McGonagall will help track him down and then be able to keep him from Apperating to safety."
"Why don't you meet Miss Granger and have her bring Crookshanks to the Entrance Hall to meet Professor McGonagall in, say, twenty minutes. I'll have told Minerva of our plan by then and they can leave, straightaway, for the gates."
"Right. I'm off." Ron rose and headed for the door.
"It was very observant of you to spot those paw prints and report this to me, Ronald," remarked the Headmaster, causing Ron to blush.
"Thank you, sir."
"Yeah." Ron nodded.
"Let's see what we can learn then, shall we?"
"Yes, sir." Ron grinned and left the Headmaster's office.
"Christopher, could you have Severus come here to my office, please, this could prove quite informative."
"Certainly, they're just finishing a late lunch, I believe."
"Have him borrow Anna's /Invisibility Cloak/, would you?"
"Ok, I'll be right back."
"Severus, come in, come in."
Severus stepped through the hidden Passage Door and watched it close.
"No wonder you never suspected its existence," he observed, shaking his head, and then turning, asked, "What can I do for you?"
"Peter Pettigrew is lurking outside the gates and I'm going to send Minerva, with Miss Granger's pet, Crookshanks, to capture him. We may find out something useful from him. And we'll know if Tom truly thinks you're dead."
"Indeed. So, the cloak is to have me be there when you question him, but not seen."
"If he indeed reveals your universally accepted death, then, when he has been taken back, you may reveal yourself to those present."
"Very well. Where will this take place; here?"
"No, I think the DADA classroom, you can stand on the landing and see and hear everything, without worrying that someone would bump into you. Moody will see you, of course, but he'll not give you away."
"I'll go, then, and wait."
"Splendid, I'm expecting Minerva any minute and you can slip out as she enters."
"Ah, a plan!"
"You're starting to sound like our Anna, Severus, my boy."
"Occupational habit of being involved with, and now married to, the conniving wench, I suppose."
Dumbledore roared with laughter at that statement.
Minerva McGonagall came into the office.
"Headmaster. Tykey said you needed to see me urgently."
"Minerva, I have something very important I want you to do for me," Dumbledore said, as he circled his desk to come face to face with his second-in-command.
"What is it, Albus?"
"I would like you to accompany Crookshanks, in your wonderful Animagus form, of course, and bring me a rat."
"What? A /rat/? /Albus/, why on /earth /would...you...mean to tell me he's /here/, at /Hogwarts/? Peter Pettigrew!?!?" Minerva gasped.
"Precisely. Ron Weasley spotted his tracks in the snow outside the gates. I believe him to be spying on anyone who comes or goes; listening to conversations among the students who visit Hogsmeade. He's no doubt reported the visit of the Minster for Magic and Augusta's arrival."
"But why should I take Crookshanks?"
"It's not that I doubt you abilities as a feline, Minerva, but Crookshanks is more adept at tracking than you, perhaps, and has a history of intimidating and chasing Scabbers. AND... you/, /more importantly, /must /keep Peter from Transfiguring and Disapparating. Also, don't let Crookshanks harm him; scare him, certainly, but we need him alive."
There was a gleam in Minerva's eye that matched the Headmaster's.
"This could be quite interesting."
"I'll just go find my furry feline friend."
"Miss Granger is bringing your cohort to the Entrance Hall, as we speak."
"AH, I'll meet her there, then."
Peter Pettigrew was snuggled deep in his nest; warm, fed and furious/. He had taken two reports to the Dark Lord and still he had been ordered to return to this pile of leaves instead of remaining at his Master's headquarters. To add insult to injury that /bitch/, Bella, had made her usual snide remarks about his 'a/ssignment'.
"Don't stick your nose out too far, Wormtail, somebody might make a snack out of you," she had sneered at him.
'What did she know/?' grumbled Wormtail to himself. '/Don't see her sticking her nose out anywhere! I'm the one taking all the risks for our Master. Sitting in this lonely hole, waiting for...what... the occasional group of idiot students to wander by on their way back from Hogsmeade, or that oaf, Hagrid, on the way to the Three Broomsticks? Humph!'
He shifted a bit and then froze, his senses alert.
'/What was that/?' Sniff, sniff! '/Apple/!?!' Sniff, sniff. '/Yes, but where/...'
Then he heard the crunch of footsteps in snow; someone was walking toward the gates. He peeked out and took a quick look. Professor McGonagall was at the gates, heading toward Hogsmeade, obviously, but what drew Wormtail's immediate and total attention was the bright red, half eaten apple in her mittened hand.
As she walked through the gates and started down the road she took two more bites and tossed the core toward the side of the road. Wormtail, licking his lips, watched it arch toward a nearby snow bank where it landed with a soft 'fuff'. A cursory glance at McGonagall's receding back and he slipped out of his hiding place intent on retrieving the unexpected treat.
The snow was deep on the side of the road but he could see the hole the falling core had made. The rat was there in four leaps. Sticking his head down into the drift, he clamped his sharp teeth into the remaining apple and yanked it up and out, triumphantly.
Turning the core over and over in his paws, he was busily chomping away when a shadow fell across the snow. He instantly froze and as he slowly looked up, his heart rose in his throat. Crookshanks was crouched, ears back, tail flicking, barely a yard in front of him. Wormtail heaved the apple core, with all his strength, straight at the huge orange cat, bouncing it off his flat nose as he flipped around to make a dive for his hideout.
Only...crouching in front of his den was another cat. Squeaking, he hurled himself sideways, starting a desperate dash for the forest across the road, even as Crookshanks, snarling, jumped over a drift and landed in the road to his right.
'/Just one more snowdrift and I'm safe/!' thought Wormtail, desperately, as he launched himself toward the safety of the pine trees; his Apparition point.
Wormtail felt the spell hit him in mid-leap and carried by his forward momentum, landed; frozen, outstretched and headfirst in the snow bank in front of him.
Minerva walked across the road and picking up Crookshanks, gave the yowling cat a hug.
"Good cat, Crookshanks." Then she set him down and reaching into the snow, pulled out the petrified, /in more ways than one/, rat. "Hello, Peter. Let's take a walk up to the school, shall we?"
Grasping the stiff body of the rodent firmly in her left hand, she held her wand to his heart with her right. She could see his eyes flicking frantically, but knew he couldn't do anything about his present situation. Smiling grimly, she followed Crookshanks up the road to the castle.
It was a solemn group that gathered in the DADA classroom. Besides the Headmaster and Professor McGonagall, Mad-eye Moody and Remus Lupin were there, as were the Senior D.A. members: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Neville, Ginny and Luna. Draco had been invited by Harry, as they might find out information about his missing Head of House.
The rat, formerly known as Scabbers, sat shivering in a small cage, atop a stool, placed in the middle of the classroom floor, completely surrounded by the watching crowd. Dumbledore walked forward and bent over, peering into the cage.
"Peter, we will not harm you, as long as you co-operate. Do you understand?"
The rat looked up at him and nodded.
"We will do a memory charm on you; you will have no recollection of being caught by Crookshanks and Minerva. Do you understand that also?"
"You will, however, answer our questions or we will resort to Veritaserum/, is /that clear?"
The rat cringed, but nodded a third time, slowly.
Dumbledore straightened up and with a flick of his wand, the cage vanished and the rat morphed in to Peter Pettigrew, who looked around, wildly. Then, realizing there was no escape, sat on the stool, head down, muttering under his breath.
"Where should we begin?" Albus said, sounding as if waiting to hear a student's recitation. "Perhaps you should tell us what you know about Severus Snape. Where is he?"
"He's dead." There were gasps around the room. "At least that is what Bella and Rodolphus said; my Master believes them."
"I think Bella and Severus had an argument on the terrace and Bella blasted the floor out from under him and he fell on the rocks below."
"You saw this?"
"No, but I saw the ruined terrace, before my Master repaired it. It is a very long drop and Snape didn't have his wand; he had lost it over the edge, somehow, so there was no way to save himself."
"I see. The body was recovered?"
"No, our Master looked over the edge and then came back inside."
Draco growled, but Harry put a hand on his arm and when Draco looked at him, shook his head.
"What's Voldemort's next move?" Mad-eye Moody stumped forward, impaling Wormtail with his magical blue eye. "/Huh/?"
"I don't know."
Mad-eye flipped the lid on a small vial, which Harry recognized as the same one used to administer Veritaserum to Barty Crouch, Jr., in the aftermath of the /Tri-Wizard Tournament/.
"/I don't know/!"
Growling, Moody took another step toward the cringing Pettigrew.
"/Wait/, Mad-eye; let us try," Harry said, as he, Ron and Hermione stepped forward.
"Hello, Peter. Remember me; the wizard you owe your life to?" Harry cocked his head, a small smile on his lips.
Peter snarled and turned away.
"Ungrateful sod," Ron muttered, "isn't he?"
"Yes, he is a bit ungrateful, but that's not the point, is it?" Harry stood, calmly eyeing his parents' betrayer. "We need information.../now/."
Hermione put her hand on Harry's shoulder and he stepped aside.
"Tell me, Wormtail, just conversationally speaking; what's the gossip in your group? What topics are being discussed, names dropped; that sort of thing? Hummm?" Hermione smiled sweetly, asking her question in a soothing voice.
Peter turned to tell the Mudblood girl to mind her own business, but what he saw in the eyes of the three young wizards facing him frightened him more then he would have believed possible. He saw death, his /death, waiting for him if he didn't answer. He also knew he couldn't just make up trivial, meaningless 'information', either; they would know. He saw, for the first time, that there was the /very real possibility of Voldemort being defeated and he shuddered, violently.
"Yeah, Peter, what's the latest gossip, humm?" Draco joined his friends. "I'd like to hear this, myself."
"I don't know what the Dark Lord has planned." Moody took another step closer and Peter continued, hurriedly, "but, he...he keeps saying how pleased he is...that he's successfully maneuvered everyone here to Hogwarts, right on schedule. He's only missing the Weasleys...and Narcissa Malfoy...and Anna Twigg-Jones...and..."
"Yes?" Remus stepped forward.
"The Muggle hiding with her."
"He'll never find them," Remus muttered, turning away.
"He plans to draw them out."
"How?" Dumbledore asked quietly.
"I don't know."
"/Peter/..." Dumbledore looked at him over his glasses.
"He only says he'll use her bad temper against her. When she emerges, the others will follow." Pettigrew whimpered.
"What other little displays of his 'power' does he have planned in the meantime," Harry asked roughly, stepping closer to Wormtail, who cringed at his voice.
"The Dark Lord will be 'tying up loose ends'. I don't know what that means, but...but... that /bitch /Bella..."
"She is in charge...or so she boasts," Peter continued.
"Bella Lestrange in charge of a mission; well, isn't that interesting," Mad-eye replied, scratching his chin.
"Dear sweet Auntie Bella," Draco sneered. "I suppose with Father dead, Aunt Bella was his next choice in the ranks. Didn't make the cut, huh, Wormtail?"
Pettigrew glared at Draco, who laughed and turned away.
"Any other tidbits for us, Peter?" asked Dumbledore, as he lifted his wand. "Otherwise, it's back to the snowdrifts."
"I have a question for him, Professor," said Neville, who had been standing, silent, up to this point.
"Of course, Mr. Longbottom; go right ahead."
Neville looked at the man sitting on the stool with morbid fascination, as if he was observing one of Professor Sprout's more dangerous specimens.
"Did you tell him my Gran is here?"
"Yes." Peter frowned.
"What did he say, /exactly/, when you told him?"
Peter frowned, thinking. "He said, 'Ah, eliminates a side trip for Bella'."
Neville's eyes narrowed and he looked at Dumbledore, who shook his head.
"Later, Mr. Longbottom."
"What about the Dementors and the giants?" Luna asked quietly.
"I don't know about the giants, but the Dementors will be called soon. I heard him say that right before
Bella killed Snape. That's all I know." Peter slumped. "I swear."
"Wait!" Draco turned around. "He was killed, deliberately?"
"Yes. Rodolphus said it was an 'accident', during an argument, but Bella was ordered to kill him. I heard Rabastan telling Nott what had really happened."
"Well, on that note, I think we've heard all Peter has to tell us...for today."
After Professor McGonagall left, with the sleeping Scabbers in her hand, the Headmaster waved his wand and moved some of the benches into a semi-circle, so everyone could sit and discuss what they had heard.
"I believe we have two immediate problems to deal with," Dumbledore began. "One: Mad-eye and I must meet with Molly and Arthur and your brothers." He looked at Ron and Ginny. "We must take precautions for their safety. Your Parents are staying at Headquarters almost exclusively, so it's more about Bill, Percy, Fred and George. We will advise Charlie of the situation, of course, but distance is a safety factor in itself, in his case."
"Yes, Sir," replied Ginny. Ron nodded.
"Secondly: the idea of Voldemort unleashing Bella on specific targets is quite worrying, as she wouldn't hesitate to harm innocent bystanders in her quest."
Neville spoke up, "Sir, would he send her to kill my parents in St. Mungo's?"
"Your parents are safe, Neville. I hope you know we'd never leave them unprotected."
"That was one of the reasons I asked your Grandmother to come to Hogwarts and teach Potions; more to get her here under our protection, than to fill the vacant teaching post. But, it was a win-win solution, as it turned out." He smiled at Neville, who nodded.
"And now we know about Professor Snape," said Draco, who then took a deep breath and hung his head, while the other D.A. members nodded sadly. "He's dead," whispered Draco. "That's what Wormtail saw and heard, so...it's true then."
"Not necessarily," replied Severus Snape, as he shrugged off Anna's /Invisibility Cloak/.
"Ekk!" "Professor!" "You're alive!" "BLOODY HELL!" "How? "What the...?"
The D.A. members had jumped to their feet at the sound of his voice, spinning to see him walking down the stairs from the landing, where he had been watching Pettigrew's interrogation.
" 'The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated,' someone once said and I tend to agree."
The kids were still sputtering and shaking their heads as if to clear their vision. Severus held up his hand for silence, to stem the tide of questions for a moment.
"For all intents and purposes, I am 'officially dead'. I will stay hidden until such time as you need me; when the attack starts. I can be here almost instantaneously, but must, for all our sakes, remain 'dead'. No one outside this room can know. And you must not mention me in the present tense, if you mention me at all. Do you get my meaning?
"Yes." "Okay." "Right." "Bloody hell." "Sure."
"But, Professor....how?" It was Hermione.
"Ah, ever the practical Miss Granger. I give you two key elements necessary to insure my presence here today: spare wand and Portkey."
"But, what happened? Did my Aunt Bella really intend to kill you?" Draco stepped forward.
"Oh, yes, and she nearly fell, too, but Rodolphus pulled her back."
"Tough luck, that," chuckled Mad-eye. "Maybe next time."
"Hold on/!" Harry looked around. "You lot /knew he was alive! You're not the least bit surprised to see him!"
"True, Harry. We were here when Severus arrived via his Portkey and we insured he was hidden as quickly as possible." Remus replied.
"You're with Aunt Anna!" Neville surmised, smiling.
"Yes, I am." Severus smiled back. "And she sends greetings, as do Gwen and your Mother, Draco."
"How are all the little ones?" Luna asked.
"Perfect, but then I am a bit prejudiced," replied Severus, puffing himself up. "For your information, I have changed nappies and assisted with baths."
"Stop! Stop/!" Ron covered his ears. "Severus Snape and /nappies should not be in the same sentence! That is just /WRONG/!"
They all laughed at the picture being painted by the proud father.
"Never mind, Mr. Weasley, your day will come," Severus huffed, arms crossed.
"Well, nappies aside, /I/, for one, am glad to see you!" Ginny came forward and threw her arms around Severus, giving him a hug. Much to his surprise, he hugged her back.
"Thank you, Miss We...Ginny."
Hermione and Luna also gave him a hug and Ron, Harry and Draco enthusiastically shook his hand. Neville approached Severus slowly, frowning. Severus' eyebrow shot up.
Suddenly, Neville grinned wickedly. "Uncle Severus!" he cried, and threw his arms around the startled Potions Master, enveloping him in a big bear hug.
"What the..." Severus looked at Neville, aghast, then smiling, returned the hug. "Nephew...alright, unhand me! That's the good lad," said Severus as Neville backed away, still grinning from ear to ear.
"Well, the good news of Severus' survival not with-standing, I think we should start our discussion about possible threats to the school and our preparations, before we run into dinnertime," suggested Dumbledore, glancing at his pocket watch."
"Oh, right." "Yes, sir." "Okay."
Everyone regained their seats and Severus leaned against the bookcase.
"Sir, I think the Dementors are our, the D.A.'s, biggest concern right now. They stopped and boarded the Hogwarts Express once before, they might do it again. I think the D.A. should start practicing the Patronus /Charm/ right away." Harry suggested. "Then, the students would be protected on the way home for Spring Break and on the way back."
"Good thought, Harry. I can help with your practices, if you want," volunteered Remus.
"That'd be great, Professor," Harry agreed, "Thanks."
"Yes, that's an admirable idea, Harry. As soon as possible, agreed?" Dumbledore nodded.
Minerva McGonagall returned to the DADA classroom, satisfied that Wormtail would be as deep in his hideout as it was possible to go, for the foreseeable future. After placing him on the road, next to the apple core, she returned inside the gates and shot a 'Rennervate' spell at him. When he awoke, it was to see Crookshanks sneaking toward him, snarling.
With a squeal and frantic leap sideways, the rat had run a frantic race, around the shrubs and trees before ducking back into hiding place. Crookshanks had stuck his paw down the opening in the snow and into the brush pile, but was unable to reach far enough to snag the trembling rodent. Satisfied, Minerva had called the cat and taken him back with her to the school.
She looked around at the group and noticed that they were watching her, with a bit of a smile on all of their faces. Suddenly, someone tapped her on the shoulder and spinning around, she gasped and then let out a squeal, "/Severus/!" She threw her arms around him. "Dear boy, where have you been?"
"Healing, Minerva." Severus replied, gently untangling himself from her grasp.
"I'll explain later. Suffice it to say, Severus is still 'dead', so no one can know, Minerva. Do you understand?"
"Of course. But that doesn't mean I can't be very happy to see him!" She stood grinning like a schoolgirl. "At least for a few minutes."
"Actually, I do have to leave. I don't' know when I'll see you all again, but it probably won't be until I'm needed here. I'll...we'll be ready."
"Take care, Severus." "Bye." "Our love to Anna." "And Mother." "And Gwen." "Good bye."
Severus donned the Invisibility Cloak and they watched as the door to the classroom opened and closed, seemingly on its own.
Minerva turned to Dumbledore. "Was he here the whole time?"
"I thought my mind was playing tricks on me."
"Why would you say that, Professor?" Ginny asked
"I thought I detected Severus' cologne earlier, but dismissed the notion. I've know him too long and it's a very distinctive scent. I always liked it."
"We better bring that up in the D.A., Harry; as we girls, especially, could give ourselves away, if we're wearing perfume."
"Good point, Hermione."
Later that evening, Draco was sitting in the Slytherin common room, reading the Daily Prophet, when Theo and Blaze came over and sat down in adjoining chairs.
"Hey, Draco, do you have a minute?" asked Theo.
"Sure, what's up?" Draco folded the newspaper and tossed it on the table.
"Do you think Snape's dead?"
"Depends on the information source, doesn't it? That rag," pointing to the Prophet, "says he most probably is, as there have been no sightings of him and no word to the contrary. Dumbledore is acting as if he's just gone on holiday and forgot to send an owl, telling us what a wonderful time he's having. Honestly...I don't know who to believe. Why, what have you heard? Anything?"
"Yeah...I got an owl from Father and he says he's dead. Heard through the grapevine, but that's not the most reliable of sources, is it?" added Theo.
"No. Bit like believing all the rumors and gossip around here. I suppose we'll have to assume something's happened to him, but where he is and in what condition, dead or alive, who knows? But to tell you the truth, if he /is /dead, and Voldemort had killed him, why didn't his body get dumped at the gates, like Pansy?"
"Hey, yeah, you're right. That makes it even more confusing, doesn't it?" Blaze shook his head.
"We'll just have to wait and see, I guess." Draco shrugged.
"What do you think about Mrs. Longbottom, Draco?" Theo sat back, raising an eyebrow.
"Well, she knows her stuff, and she's very strict, but she's not as intimidating as Snape was. He was deadly serious, all the time, but you can tell she's really enjoying herself, even as she's looming over you. Truthfully...I like her. But I'll deny I ever said that if you tell anyone!" he laughed.
"Yeah, I like her, too." Theo looked around and put his finger to his lips.
Draco and Blaze nodded, grinning.
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