Chapter 28 : "A hunting, we will go..."
"You want me to do /what/?" Severus exploded.
"Help me get into the veterinarian supply room at the London Zoo and nick a few things...we'll just borrow them, actually. I swear we'll put them back!" Gwen explained.
"/Are you insane/?" hissed the 'temporarily retired' Potions Master.
"The jury is still out on that one," Cissa snickered.
"Be quiet, Narcissa!" snapped Severus.
Cissa stuck out her tongue. "Your bullying doesn't impress /me/, Severus Snape, so /there/!" She snapped her fingers at him.
"Fine. You don't have to go; I'm sure Anna wouldn't mind going along," Gwen huffed.
"Absolutely not!" Severus pounded his fist on the table.
"Well, who /then?" Gwen put her hands on her hips, frowning. "Fred and George?" Her eyes lit up and she smiled. "Yes, come to think of it, I /am going to be meeting them in London; I'll ask them to give me a hand!"
Severus stared at her, open mouthed, as if to imply he couldn't believe she'd even suggest such a thing.
Just then Anna walked into the kitchen. "Fred and George...giving you a hand? Doing what?"
"Invading the Zoo."
"Oh...That reminds me, I need to hitch a ride, so I can go to Sheffield." Anna took a seat.
"Sheffield? Why would you need to go to Sheffield?" Severus asked, thunderstruck that Anna was so casually talking of leaving their hiding place, for any reason.
"To accompany Artemus and company back here."
"I don't think so..."
"Oh, oh," Cissa muttered, as she stood up and walked over to the counter to get a mug of coffee.
Gwen sat back and stared up at the ceiling, counting the cracks in the exposed beams.
"I won't let you do anything as dangerous as this, either of you!" Severus glared at Anna and then Gwen, whose gaze slowly came down to meet his.
"And who the BLOODY HELL do you think you /are, telling /me what I can and can't do?" Gwen hissed.
"NOW you've torn it," Cissa smirked at Severus, who glared daggers at her.
"You are not talking to the D.A., Severus Snape! Don't you DARE use that patronizing, superior, bullying tone to me! I'm /not /some first year!" Anna growled at her husband, eyes flashing.
"Anna and I are perfectly capable of handling this, by ourselves/, thank you very much! /You hold down the fort, like a good little daddy and we'll be back in no time. You can do /that/, can't you?" Gwen spit out.
"Now who's being patronizing?" Cissa giggled.
"Shut it/, Cissa!" "/Quiet/, Black!" "Stay /out of it!"
"/Well/! Excuse me for finding this whole confrontation highly amusing!"
Cissa returned to her seat, obviously not insulted at all by their remarks.
Anna, Gwen and Severus turned, stunned, to stare at her.
"/Please/, don't stop /now/! This is just getting /good/." Cissa took a sip of coffee and smiled benignly at them.
Anna and Gwen looked at each other, eyes twinkling, and then dissolved into giggles. Severus grunted, crossed his arms and looked at the two women opposite him. Grunting again, he shook his head, looking over at Cissa, who winked at him and exploded with laughter.
Eileen drifted into the room, eyebrow rising at the sight of her discomforted son facing three women in the throes of a laugh attack.
"What is going on?" she asked, as she settled on the chair next to Severus.
"Apparently/, my assessment of certain proposed activities counts for /naught in this household," sniffed her son.
"Oh, /please/!" "Don't whine." "Poor baby!"
"There seems to be a consensus of opinions on that point, dear. What silly thing did you say to illicit such responses?"
"/Ma-ma/! Whose side are you on?" Severus questioned, a wounded expression on his face.
"Won't know until I hear what the discussion is all about, now will I?" Eileen responded, tilting her head and smiling at her son.
"What? I...they...outrageous...dangerous..." Severus sputtered to a halt, realizing all of the women, including his own ghostly Mother, were watching him with interested but smug looks on their faces. He was realizing he might have used the wrong tactics with this group. "Is it too much to ask, when these 'outings' were planned, that I be informed? I feel a little left out, as if my opinion counts for nothing."
"All of this was thought out ages ago, dear," explained Anna. "We haven't been just sitting here playing with the babies, you know; we had months to plot and plan and get things ready. Having you here was not part of the equation. I suppose we may have been a tad remiss in not getting you up to speed with all of our decisions on what we were gong to do to help with the defense of Hogwarts. I'm sorry if we hurt your feelings. We really do appreciate all you've been pitching in and helping with around here; it's just now we are going start putting our plans into motion and we need you to join in."
Severus looked from his wife to his step-daughter, his classmate and his Mother before sighing and shaking his head. He knew when he was out numbered and out voted.
"Oh, sod it! I'll accompany Gwen, if only to keep her out of mischief. I believe I can manage to gain entry and remove us from the building, unnoticed and without setting off any Muggle alarm devices. There! Are you four /happy/?"
"Very!" "Quite." "Yes, dear." "Bravo!"
"However...may I enquire as to how you plan on traveling to Sheffield?" Severus continued, raising an eyebrow at his wife.
"I'm borrowing Harry's broom, use a 'Disillusioning' charm while flying there, and then I'll ride with them in the ambulance and show Artemus the way. We'll be back here before you two arrive in London."
"Humph! If you lot think I don't know I've just been snookered into this, you are sadly mistaken!"
"Actually, Severus, there is a very /practica/l reason for you coming on this little raid; we'll have to take note of the ingredients of the tranquilizer contents information and then either replicate it or figure out the equivalent magical potion."
"Ah, the method to your madness," Severus nodded sagely. "I should have realized there was more to your choice of myself as your cohort..."
"Besides your good looks and charm?" Cissa piped up.
"Precisely," agreed Severus.
"HA!" "Oh, brother!" "Right." "If you say so, dearest."
"Wenches! The lot of you!"
CRACK! POW! Rumble, rumble. HONK! HONK! The Knight Bus screeched to a halt at the gates of Hogwarts.
Arthur Weasley stepped down, scanned the road and surrounding woods, and then turned back to offer his hand to his wife.
"Watch your step, my dear."
"Thank you, Arthur, and you, too, Mr. Shunpike; your running commentary was quite entertaining."
"You're very welcome, Mrs.....Weasley," wheezed Stan, as he maneuvered two trunks onto the rear platform. "Lots of visitors coming to Hogwarts, these days."
"Indeed," agreed Mr. Weasley.
"Hello, you two," boomed Hagrid, as he unlocked the gates and swung them wide.
"Hagrid! How wonderful to see you again." Molly beamed at him.
"Hello Hagrid. You're the welcoming committee, are you?"
"That I am, that I am!"
Stan settled the trunks on the verge and then climbed back onto the /Knight Bus /rear platform, and gave the Weasleys a jaunty wave.
"Take 'er away, Ernie!"
HONK! HONK! Rumble, rumble. POW!
Scabbers watched the arrival of the Arthur and Molly Weasley with barely contained glee; his Master would be delighted to hear that another part of his plan was complete.
"How about the boys, then?"
"Bill's house has a 'Fidelious' charm in place, so he and Fleur are safe. Percy lives with them, at present, but is coming this weekend, to spend the holiday. Fred and George are coming to visit after Spring Break."
"Ah, well, that's good then. Charlie still with them dragons, eh?"
"Yes, and he sent word that Norbert's nearly three-quarters grown and is a really friendly dragon, as dragons go. You must have been a very good influence on him, Hagrid."
" 'Ya really think so, Arthur?"
"I do indeed, Hagrid. Maybe you'll get to go and visit him, one day."
"Do 'ya suppose Norbert would remember me?"
"Of course he would," replied Mr. Weasley, smiling up at the Gamekeeper.
"Here, let me get them trunks for 'ya, Arthur."
Picking up a trunk with each hand, Hagrid ushered the Weasleys through the gates, pausing long enough to close and lock them. He saw Scabbers under a bush to the right side of the road and snickered to himself.
'Now run along and tell old Tom what you heard, Scabbers, that's a good rat,' thought Hagrid, with a chuckle.
He turned and caught up with Arthur and Molly, a smile on his face.
"Was he there?" whispered Arthur, not looking up.
"Oh, yeah, and I dare say he's on his way to report, even as we stroll up to the school."
"I /still /get boiling mad, when I think how we looked after and fed him all those years. A pet rat, HA!" Molly fumed.
"Now dear, he fooled everybody/, from the Ministry on down/, not just us," Arthur reminded her.
"And he'll pay for it too, Molly, mark me words!" Hagrid added, with a grim look on his face.
"I still have a hard time believing Potter allowed you to borrow his precious Firebolt."
"It's only for a few hours and his Quidditch practice isn't until tomorrow, so the timing couldn't have been better. I'll have is back to him before dinner tonight," Anna reassured Severus, turning in her seat to smile at him. "I won't be out for very long, so do /not /worry about me."
"I most certainly will worry!" Severus crossed his arms. "See if I don't!"
Gwen laughed as she pulled the van over onto the verge just before the ramp to the A-1 South.
"She'll be fine, Severus. It's yourself you should be worrying about, you realize; you're in my company, remember? The 'Mad Muggle' HE!HE!HE!" Gwen wiggled her eyebrows at Severus and then winked at Anna.
"Both of you behave and be safe," admonished Anna, as she started the 'Disillusionment' charm on herself.
As she slowly faded, Severus leaned forward and gave her a quick kiss.
"Please be careful," he whispered.
"You, too, you two." She smiled at him, even though he couldn't see her face anymore.
The door opened and closed, seemingly by itself and after a few seconds Gwen put the van in gear, as Severus lowered himself into the front passenger seat. She pulled out into the traffic and onto the ramp, heading south to London.
"Lord love a duck, this broom is fantastic!' thought Anna.
She had to concentrate - hard - as the Firebolt tore through the air, streaking northwest toward Sheffield. Anna was sorely tempted to go 'the long way around', so as to enjoy her first outing since last June. However, her sense of responsibility overrode her juvenile side, for once, and she slowed, following the streets until the 'abandoned' factory came into sight.
Setting down in the street, she carried the broom over to the gate, unlocked it and entered the delivery yard. Looking around, she stood in the lee of the wall and re-illusioned herself before going to the building entrance, at the side of the garage. Unlocking the heavy door, which creaked at an alarming volume, Anna started around the ambulance.
"Stop right there!"
"Artemus, it's Anna!"
"What was the Portkey?"
"A framed picture of Neville, my Godson."
"Sorry Anna; can't be too careful."
"Good question, though." Anna turned and smiled at the Healer walking toward her. "You're looking none the worse for wear."
"We're getting along quite well, actually." Artemus gave Anna a hug, and then bowed her toward the hallway. "I was just putting the last of the supplies in the ambulance when I saw the gate open, by itself."
" 'Disillusioned' myself for the ride," Anna explained, holding up the Firebolt.
"Whoa! It's a beauty; belong to you?"
"Harry Potter's; and it goes back, /tonight/, so we're both out of luck for any joy rides..."
"..for /now/, anyway."
Artemus laughed, seeing the mischievous look in Anna's eyes.
"Are we meeting the Weasley twins first or going straight to the zoo?" Severus enquired, as the London suburbs slid by his window.
"Weasleys first, as we'll have to wait a bit for everyone at the zoo to go home this evening. We'll get a bite to eat and take a stroll by, on the canal." Gwen replied. "You say I won't be able to see this 'Headquarters' building?"
"No. Also, I think is best if you stay in this vehicle, around the corner of the park and we'll bring the boxes out and put the securely in the back. It will draw too much attention if you park right in front of the house."
"Which isn't there to Muggles."
"Or Magical folk, either, unless they've been told the address by the Secret Keeper."
"How bizarre is that!" Gwen shook her head, grinning. "Hide in plain sight, I love it!"
The ambulance slowed, turned through the open gate and drove over the rise and up to the edge of the woods. Anna closed and locked the gate and with a second wave of her wand, the thick brambles parted. The ambulance preceded into the gloom, lost to view moments later as the undergrowth repositioned itself.
"Where are we, if you don't mind my asking?" Penny Clearwater's voice came from the back.
"In a section of what's left of Sherwood Forest; the Sheriff of Nottingham could never find Robin Hood, so old Tom won't find us, either."
"Brilliant!" Penny laughed
She smiled at Alice and Frank Longbottom, who were sitting side by side on the gurney, holding hands. Alice gave her a tentative smile and the looked out the rear window, frowning slightly. Frank looked down at his wife's hand clutched in his and gave a sigh.
Severus turned to look at Gwen; he had to get his eyes off of the increasing volume of Muggle conveyances crowding the roadway. He'd seen cars, taxies, buses and lorries before, of course, on his infrequent excursions into the Muggle world, but usually from the relative safety of the sideway.
Actually being in one of those vehicles, hurtling down the road at what, to him, seemed breakneck speed, without any sense of control, was quite unsettling. He knew he was reacting rather badly, about being the traffic but, quite frankly, it scared the willies out of him. He was /not/, however, going to admit that to Gwen.
They'd spent to trip from Lincolnshire pleasantly enough, discussing Christopher, medicine, the Wolfsbane potion and Hogwarts, among other things. Severus had answered a few rather good questions about things in the Wizarding world that he was quick to realize he took for granted, without a thought about how astonishing it must all be to this Muggle woman sitting next to him. Having Anna as her stepmother didn't mean Gwen had been exposed to that much magic, for the simple reason Anna had, for all intents and purposes, lived in her husband's Muggle world. Plus, Gwen had been at university a lot of the time.
He enjoyed her quick wit and knew her temper rivaled Anna's. He'd watched Remus Lupin, quite diplomatically, defuse both of those ladies' tempers when they had flared up over some topic or other. Perhaps he should have a talk with Lupin about how to ...
"Severus! Hellooo! Is this exit the one we need to take?"
Snapping back to reality, Severus quickly scanned the road sign and nodded.
"Yes, then head south; I'll tell you when to turn to get to Grimmald Square."
As the ambulance pulled up to Greystone Manor, the front door opened and Cissa stepped out, waving cheerfully.
"Good God...is that?" Artemus gasped.
Anna spun, staring at the gob-smacked Healer, who was looking, eyes wide, mouth agape at the blond woman walking toward them.
"That's Narcissa Malfoy, oh sorry, Black. She's using her maiden name, now that she's a widow."
Artemus' eyebrows nearly disappeared into his hairline as he turned to Anna and sputtered, "But... but... you... you're the one who killed Lucius Malfoy! How? Why? I don't understand."
Patting his arm, Anna laughed. "Artemus, it's a long story, but we'll get to that later. Come on, let me introduce you."
Anna and Artemus got out of ambulance, Cissa coming to Anna to give her a hug.
"That was a quick trip. How'd the broom ride go?"
"Like riding a bike, once you learn, you never forget how."
"What's a bike?"
"Cissa! You know perfectly well...oh, HA!HA!, very funny!"
Laughing, the two witches turned as Artemus came around the front of the ambulance.
There was an awkward silence.
"I'm Cissa Black," said Cissa, holding out her hand. "You must be Healer Pye."
"Artemus, please...yes...ah...nice to see you again."
"Again?" Cissa said, puzzled, and then looked closely at Artemus. Suddenly, she smiled. "Oh, I do remember you! You were a year ahead of us at Hogwarts. Hufflepuff, wasn't it?"
"Yes, I'm amazed you remember."
"How could I forget? You were the only non-Slytherin brave enough to ask me for a dance at the Yule Ball! You danced superbly/, by the way. I only /just kept Lucius from putting a permanent 'Leg Locker' jinx on you."
"Thank you for /that/!" Artemus blushed.
"Hey!" Penny's voice floated out from the back of the ambulance. "Can we do 'old home week' after we get out?"
"Oh, Penny!" Artemus smiled at Cissa and trotted around to open the back doors. "Sorry; bit of a surprise seeing Cissa. Here Alice, give me your hand, that's a good girl."
"Come on, Frank, let's get you out," Penny urged her patient, helping the silent, somber looking man down the steep step.
Frank looked around at the tall trees and front flower garden, with its early signs of spring and then his eyes widened as he turned and saw the house. Alice was smiling at Anna and Cissa, but turned when Frank touched her arm. She looked at the house and smiled, taking Frank's hand.
"It seems they approve of the accommodations upgrade. Well, welcome to Greystone Manor B&B, folks. Right this way," Anna announced, putting her hands on Alice and Frank's shoulders and urging them toward the front door.
Gwen sat and watched as Severus walked down the sidewalk. He stopped, turned toward the row of tall houses facing the rather neglected park. He took two steps forward...and disappeared.
Winky stood on the landing.
"Missy Anna, the babies is awake."
"Thanks you, Winky," Anna called up the stairs. "I'll be right up. Cissa, could I impose on you to get everyone settled, while I see to the children."
"Certainly, you go on."
"Children?" Penny looked around, puzzled.
"Yes, Anna's twins and ..."
Squeals of baby laughter emanated from the front parlor.
Alice turned toward the sound. "Again, again," she whispered, as she walked to the door.
"Ah, that would be my little one." Cissa walked past Alice and scooped Lyn off of the floor, effectively rescuing Dobby from little Miss Malfoy's clutches.
"It is alright, Missy Cissa, Missy Lyn and I was playing," explained Dobby, rubbing his ears.
"What an adorable little girl, Madame Malfoy...Ms. Black, sorry," Penny sputtered, looking slightly embarrassed at fumbling Cissa name.
"It's rather informal here, Miss Clearwater, so I'll call you Penny and you call me Cissa, alright?" Cissa smiled at the Healer-in-training, who was settling Frank Longbottom in a comfortable wing chair by the window.
"That would be splendid," agreed Penny, nodding.
Lyn squealed and held out her arms to Alice Longbottom, who had walked over to Cissa and was smiling at the child.
Cissa glanced at Artemus, with a questioning look on her face.
"Do you think she can handle Lyn?"
Alice reached out and took Lyn from Cissa and held her, looking closely at the blond curls and bright eyes. Then she sank down to the floor, holding Lyn in her lap. Picking up Lyn's favorite stuffed dragon, they began playing together.
"Gracious! I understood Frank and Alice Longbottom were virtual vegetables - after my insane sister, her husband and Barty Crouch, Jr. got through with them. This is amazing!"
"It's all Anna's doing, well, her and her late husband."
"Oh, that's right, you don't know, do you? ... He's not dead."
"What/?" "You're /not serious?!"
"Perfectly serious...he's just gone to London with Gwen."
"But...Christopher died four years ago, I was at the funeral!" Artemus looked thoroughly perplexed.
"No, no! Not Christopher...I mean Severus."
"Oh...that's right; you don't know about that either, do you?" Cissa stopped when she saw the incredulous looks on their faces.
"The Severus Snape...Potions Master at Hogwarts...terror of all first years.../THAT/ Severus Snape?" Penny gasped.
"This is going to be a long afternoon," Cissa sighed. "Sit down and make yourselves comfortable."
"Hello, you two!" Gwen greeted Fred and George, as they put their boxes of special ammunition in the back of the van.
"Hello, Gwen!" Fred gave her a hug.
"Watcher, Gwen!" George followed suit.
"Unhand her, you two, we must leave quickly as possible," Severus instructed, as he added his boxes to the pile and closed the back doors.
"Fred, George, are you doing anything for the next couple of hours?" Gwen asked, innocently. Severus rolled his eyes.
"What evil plans do you have?"
"If we might inquire?"
"Breaking and entering, for starters and we could use a lookout...or two...also there's always the possibility of a diversion...maybe."
"Where did I lose control?" Severus muttered, as he settled onto the passenger seat, Fred and George having already scrambled into the back seat.
"As if you were ever really in control," Gwen whispered, grinning wickedly.
"I have the sinking feeling you're correct. Perhaps I should be the voice of reason."
"Excellent!" "Good idea." "Bravo."
"I think we've found something to interest Frank," Artemus informed Anna as she joined the others, daughter in her arms. Winky followed, carrying Christopher.
Settling the infants in their sling-swings, she looked around.
"Where is he?"
"He's in the conservatory; sitting, smiling, humming," Artemus related. "Penny took her tea out there, along with Frank's and she'll keep him out of mischief."
" 'Keep Frank Longbottom out of mischief.' I don't think there is anybody in the Wizarding world who would say they'd thought they'd hear that sentence uttered, ever again."
"That's a fact, but they're both making progress; slow but sure progress."
"I'm thrilled to have them here, because now I can get started on their therapy, again." Anna smiled.
"So...you and Severus?"
"Ah...Cissa brought you up to date, did she?"
"I did," replied a voice from behind the sofa.
"What are you doing back there?" asked Anna, as she craned her neck.
"Alice and I are playing follow the leader with Lyn. She crawls off, Alice follows and I'm bringing up the rear."
Just then Lyn appeared from around the far end of the sofa and looking back, giggled and crawled, rather rapidly, across the rug. Alice emerged next, smiling, followed by Cissa. Lyn scurried over to the chair where Artemus was seated. Looking at him, she held out her arms to be picked up.
"Oh ho, needing to be rescued, little one?" Artemus asked, as he picked her up, swinging her high, squealing, to settle her on his lap.
"Alice, come and sit here. Winky, a cup of tea for Miss Alice, please," Anna instructed, as she helped her friend to her feet and guided her to the chair next to Artemus. Winky brought over a cup and saucer and offered them to the newest houseguest.
Alice glanced down at the house elf, looking slightly puzzled and then she smiled, took the cup and saucer, nodding her head.
"She doesn't say much, if anything, Winky. Mr. Frank, either," Anna explained.
"Yes, Missy Anna, I is knowing about Mr. Neville's parents, Miss. Master Barty, he is used to talk about it, Miss, what he...I is so ashamed, Miss."
"It had nothing to do with you, Winky." Cissa said, Anna nodding.
"I is knowing that, Miss Cissa, but it is still a terrible thing, Miss Anna."
"Agreed," Anna replied, "but, as you see, there's some improvement and we're all going to work with Frank and Alice and hopefully, they'll continue to recover."
"Personally, I think getting them out of St. Mungo's was the best thing that's happened to them, besides your efforts, Anna." Artemus added.
Lyn screeched, a pout on her face.
"Oh, oh; someone doesn't like not being the center of attention," Cissa turned to look at her daughter.
Artemus looked down at the diminutive copy of her Mother, sitting on his lap. He bounced and tickled her; giggling, she looked up at this new face in her life, studied him for a moment or two and then displayed a dazzling smile.
"Flirt!" Artemus picked her up and put his nose to hers, blinking his eyes rapidly. "Butterfly kisses!" This brought on another fit of giggles.
"What are you doing?" Cissa was watching this exchange with a strange look on her face.
"Cissa! I didn't know you had green eyes!" Anna laughed.
Severus and Gwen appeared in the main hallway of the Zoo's hospital building.
" 'Lumos'/ /," Severus whispered and the tip of his wand glowed, just brightly enough to light the was and allow them to read the signs posted at each door.
"No...no...no...Bingo! This is the one, Severus."
" 'Alohamora' ."
The buildings alarm system had already been temporarily disarmed by the Weasley twins, who were standing watch outside. Having watched dozens of action/thriller/spy/police movies, at Anna's urging, they were well versed in Muggle electronics. Arthur was so proud...Molly was /not /so thrilled.
Opening the door to the drug storage room, Severus ushered Gwen in and then, checking the hallway, followed, closing and locking the door behind them.
"Bring your wand over here to this cabinet, "Gwen said softly, waving him to join her across the room.
The lock clicked and Gwen slid the glass door to the side.
"Let me see....Mmmm...Ketamine or Zylozine?"
"Any distinct differences between the two?"
"Very little, but Ketamine is also used on humans, so I'm more inclined to use it."
"Let me see the bottle."
Severus shone his wand's light on the minute writing on each bottle and came to the same conclusion.
"We'll take one bottle. I'll duplicate the drug in sufficient quantities and then we can return this bottle. In the meantime..."
With a flick of his wand another bottle, identical to the one in his hand, appeared on the shelf, at the back of the group of Ketaime bottles.
"How will you know which one is the duplicate, if say, some one does some dusting and the bottles get moved?"
"I'll end the spell and it will disappear."
"Oh. Handy dandy little spell, that."
"Indeed, quite useful."
"Ok, now for the darts. I think they were kept in this cabinet...Yes! Ok, make a fake box for the back of this lot and we'll just nick this one."
"Right." Severus duplicated the box and closed the cabinet. "That's all then?"
"That's the lot. Let's get this show back on the road."
"My sentiments, exactly."
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