On Monday morning I woke up from a restless sleep. Since there were classes the next morning, Severus retired to his own quarters for the night. It was then that I realized how much I had enjoyed the sound of his breathing as he slept...a sound that I immediately missed.
When I saw Severus at breakfast that morning I noticed that his eyes kept flickering warily down the table towards my grandfather. After a few moments of trying to ignore it, I finally asked him, "What is the matter?"
With another glance at the Headmaster, he answered in a hushed voice, "Your grandfather has called for a meeting immediately after breakfast."
I smiled at him fondly and shook my head. "For the one hundredth time, Severus, you're not going to be sacked."
Truthfully I could understand Severus' discomfort. While my grandfather was a kind man, he had an uncanny way of looking a person in the eye and appearing to know his or her secrets.
The Headmaster and the four Heads of the Houses left breakfast a little earlier than normal. As I walked to my classroom I was curious about what the meeting was regarding but doubted that it had anything to do with me or my relationship with Severus. More than likely it was regarding the Chamber and the recent attacks.
The morning was uneventful although it was more difficult than ever to keep the attention of the students focused on their lessons. Needless to say, many of them were frightened and I overheard a few of them mention purchasing amulets and talismans that were suppose to protect them from whatever had attacked Mrs. Norris and Colin.
That week I had my students study the magical properties in various paint mixes..such as adding careful measurements of Dragon's Blood to different shades of red for either protection or healing spells or a pinch of powdered unicorn horn to white or blue in order to banish nightmares and bring good dreams.
By the end of the lunch-break I thought I would finally be able to enjoy a day without drama, but that was before I ran into Gilderoy Lockhart who was lurking outside my classroom. For a moment I considered ducking into another room but I realized too late that he had already seen me. With a deep breath, I forced a polite smile and continued on my way to my office.
"Ah, Professor Archer!" he exclaimed with his usual wide, toothy smile. "Could I have a moment of your time?"
"Yes you may. "I answered warily. "What can I do for you, Professor Lockhart?"
"I simply wanted to beg your forgiveness for the way I behaved these past weeks." he replied grandly. "I realize I made assumptions that I had no business making and for that I am deeply sorry."
"I see. Well, I do appreciate that, Professor Lockhart. Your apology is accepted." I said, feeling mildly relieved.
"After giving this matter some careful thought I came to the conclusion that I had been going about things the wrong way! A witch such as yourself does not simply accept the first suitor who comes along, no matter how handsome, witty and charming that wizard may be!" Lockhart announced with a wink.
That didn't sound good and I was afraid to ask where this was going.
"I don't?" I asked weakly.
"Of course not! A lady such as yourself wants to know she is appreciated! She wants to be fought for! And that is why-"
"You didnt!" I whispered as my eyes widened.
"I have challenged Professor Snape to a duel!" he exclaimed loudly, drawing the attention of the students who were currently in the hallway on their way to their afternoon classes.
Looking at him in amazement I asked carefully, "Professor Lockhart, are you sure that was wise?"
"Ah, you need not be worried about me, Professor Archer. As I mentioned in a number of my books, I'm an expert in the art of dueling. In fact I was thinking about starting a dueling club here at the school." Lockhart assured me happily. "For a wizard such as myself it's very easy to pick up on what a man like Professor Snape is about to do."
After a pause I asked, "What was Professor Snape's response to this?"
With another wink, Gilderoy replied, "At first he was speechless. He just stared at me and I believe I saw a glint of fear in his eyes but he rose to the occasion and accepted my challenge."
The staring part I could believe but I doubted that fear was an accurate description of Snape's expression at that moment.
"Exactly where is this event supposed to take place?" I inquired.
"In the staff-room immediately after our final classes are dismissed!" Lockhart answered loudly.
"How exciting." I said as I forced a small laugh. "If you would excuse me, Professor Lockhart, I have a class to teach."
"Of course, Professor Archer and I assure you there will not be any bloodshed this afternoon!" he exclaimed with a final wink before heading on his way.
"I wouldn't bet on that." I muttered to myself as I watched this egocentric man walk down to the other end of the corridor.
The afternoon wore on and I overheard a number of the students wishing that the duel had been set to take place in the Great Hall where everyone could watch. When the final bell rang I hurried downstairs intending on doing what I could to prevent the disaster I felt sure would take place.
Gilderoy and Severus were already in the room with their wands drawn when I arrived. The two wizards faced each other, Lockhart with his usual wide smile, Snape with a dark, icy glare.
Before they could begin, I quickly crossed the room and stepped between them.
"Wait! Just wait a moment!" I said. "This really isn't necessary."
"You had better stand back, Professor Archer!" Lockhart advised. "This is going to be over quickly."
"Don't I have any say in this at all?" I asked, looking back and forth between them.
"No." answered Severus, his black eyes on Lockhart.
Appauled, I turned towards him and demanded, "What do you mean 'no'?"
I put my hands on my hips indignantly and exclaimed, "The two of you have declared me the prize in this little farce. I believe I should have something to say about it!"
"You can believe that all you want." Severus whispered, his eyes still on Professor Lockhart.
Despite my effort to keep from losing my temper, I couldn't stop myself.
"I am not chattel!" I shrieked with a stamp of my foot.
"Of course you're not, Professor Archer!" agreed Lockhart. "In fact I am willing to give you permission to continue to go by your maiden name!"
"Expelliarmus!" Snape snarled.
A streak of red went by right where I stood. Screaming in fright, I jumped and turned around to see Lockhart go flying across the room.
With my heart pounding, I watched Snape silently walk over to where Lockhart now slumped against the wall. For a few seconds he silently stared down at him before asking, "Are we finished?"
His blond hair askew, Lockhart blinked up at Severus. "Ah...Yes....Yes I believe we are."
Without another word, Severus turned on his heel and came back to me.
"I was standing right here! You could have hit me!" I wailed.
"But I didn't." he smirked.
"I....but....you..." stammered, looking at him with disbelief.
Placing his wand inside his robes, Snape placed his hand in the small of my back and asked, "Would you care to take a walk with me before dinner?"
Still feeling the effects of the Disarming Charm streaking by me, I saw the amused glint in his eyes that told me he had been very sure of his aim, and would not in fact have used the spell had he thought it would hit me. However, the brief scare made me feel mildly indignant.
As we left the staff room, I said quietly, "While you knew that I wouldn't be hurt you still gave me a fright. I expect you to make it up to me."
"Do you?" he asked as he looked at me out of the corner of his eye. "In that case I will have to think of something."
It was dark...so dark and I couldn't move my hands. If only I could move my hands I would be able to defend myself again these dark hooded figures. My back and shoulders ached painfully as I stood against a wide wooden stake, my arms held out at an awkward angle with magical chains.
The wind became stronger and for a few seconds the temple was illuminated with silent flashes of lightening. I lowered my gaze to the ground beneath the stake to which I was chained and for the first time noticed the deeply etched design in the stone beneath my feet.
Black cloaks were billowing. My hair in my eyes. Shocking white fingers of lightening struck the ground.
Deadly fingers of the gods.
If only I could move my hands. With the last of my strength I again raised my eyes to the storming sky....and all was consumed in a blinding white flash.
With a soft cry I saw up in bed, clutching the blanket to my chest. I was safe in my bedroom at Hogwarts and it was early in the morning. For a few seconds I sat there, letting the realization wash over me that what I had experienced was only a dream.
After catching my breath, I climbed out of bed and went about my usual day. Once I was cleaned up and dressed the vivid details of the nightmare finally began to fade. Resolved to put the frightening images out of my head I left my room to head to the dining hall for breakfast.
As always Severus was waiting for me and his eyebrows drew together as I approached.
"Are you feeling ill?" he asked.
Shaking my head, I answered, "No, I'm fine." Since he didn't look convinced I continued, "I just had a bad dream. That's all. It happens to all of us at one time or another."
Still looking concerned Severus walked with me to the staff table. As we took our seats he asked, "Do you care to tell me what this dream was about?"
Sincerely surprised at his interest, I shrugged and said, "Just the typical dark room with scary monsters and flashing lightening."
Again Severus' eyebrows drew together. I also noticed Dumbledore, who was seated a little ways down the table, glance at me. He had concern in his eyes.
I repeated, "Everyone has bad dreams. It was nothing."
With that the subject was dropped but I couldn't help but feel puzzled at Severus and Dumbledore's reaction to the description of my dream. Thankfully no further questions were asked.
Following breakfast, Severus walked with me to my classroom. Gently squeezing my hands he said quietly, "I will see you as soon as I can."
I nodded and allowed him to tip my head back as he gave me a light kiss. Watching him walk down the corridor on his way to his own classrooms in the dungeon, I felt touched that he would show such concern over something as harmless as a nightmare.
As the day progressed I heard the sound of rolling thunder far in the distance. While my students were huddled over their projects I took a moment to walk to the window and observed the thin forks of lightening that flashed in the storm clouds. They appeared as delicate as a spider web, yet could kill on contact.
Deadly fingers of the gods....
I shuddered and turned my attention back to my students. Storms had never bothered me before so it didn't make sense that this one was making me feel so nervous. Quite a few of my students looked uneasily towards the windows as the wind began to increase in speed and volume. Reassuring them that we were all perfectly safe inside the castle, I continued with my lessons.
At the end of my last class for the day I took a quick walk to the staff room for a drink of water. Since that afternoon Snape had a potions lesson with my newly found cousin, I wouldn't be able to see him until later in the evening.
As I entered the staff room I saw my grandfather having a chat with the auror Alastor Moody who had come to Hogwarts that day to visit with my grandfather. They both glanced at me as I crossed the room.
While I was pouring my water from a glass pitcher, I heard Moody comment to my grandfather, "I'm sure the holidays will be more enjoyable for you this year, since you'll have family around you."
"Indeed." said Dumbledore as he turned and smiled towards me. "Before Gwen came to Hogwarts I didn't get to see her near as much as I would have liked."
Returning his smile, I said fondly, "I'm enjoying knowing that my grandfather is right upstairs if I ever need him."
Moody came said gruffly, "You'll forgive me for staring Gwen, but it still amazes me how you are the spitting image of your mother."
Touched, I answered. "Thank you. I will take that as a compliment."
"As well you should." Moody replied. After a pause, he added, "You've come a long way since that embarrassing incident at the start of the term."
Blushing, I laughed and said, "You heard about that? It was not one of my prouder moments."
My grandfather who had been standing nearby suddenly asked, "How are you feeling this afternoon, Gwen?"
Turning my eyes towards him I answered, "I'm fine. I'm really fine. It was only a dream and nothing more than that."
With a concerned smile, Dumbledore said quietly, "Alright then. I just want to be certain."
After a few more minutes of trivial conversation I excused myself and returned to my room. Normally I curled up on my window seat to read, but that evening I didn't care to sit where I could see the lightening, so I instead sat down in an arm chair with my book. Once I allowed myself to become absorbed in the text, the hour past quickly and I suddenly became aware that a dinner had magically appeared on my small dining table. Before I had a chance to wonder about it the unicorn painting alerted me that there was someone outside.
Opening the portrait hole I was pleasantly surprised to see Severus who accepted my invitation to come inside. Looking at the dining table he said quietly, "I see the house elves didn't waste time."
"You had them send this up?" I inquired.
"Yes, I thought it best for us to dine here this evening." he answered as he pulled a chair out for me.
While I was touched as the gesture and most certainly enjoyed having a quiet meal alone with him, I couldn't help but wonder why Severus was so concerned over a bad dream.
As we lingered at the table over our wine he said, "You will tell me if you have another of these dreams won't you?"
"Severus, there is no need to be concerned. Dreams are harmless." I tried to assure him.
"Usually." he said icily.
Sitting back in my chair I smiled and said, "Would you feel better if I went to speak with Professor Trelawney for a dream interpretation? I'm sure she would be very happy to describe the hour of my death in every gory detail."
"That's not funny!" he snapped.
Reaching across the table I took his hands in mine. "I am touched by your concern Severus and I love you for it, but this isn't something to get upset about."
"We'll see." he answered as we both rose from the table.
The now empty dishes sparkled and disappeared as silently as they had appeared on the table earlier in the evening. As I approached one of my windows and watched the distant lightening I was vaguely aware of Severus lighting a few of the candles on my bedside table. I'm not sure how long I stood there, becoming slowly mesmerized by the lightening before abruptly snapping out of it. I turned to see Severus standing near my four-poster, watching me with a deadly serious expression.
With a sigh, I smiled and walked towards him and said, "My dear, bad dreams are a part of life. I'm sure it would have happened whether you had been here or not."
"Perhaps." he whispered as he suddenly reached out and pulled me against him. "Let's put that theory to the test."
He seemed so insistent that I decided it was best not to argue. Lying across the bed in each others arms, I gave no more thought to the storm or my dreams as we once again spent the night in a passionate embrace.
The silent storm went on for most of the night, the cloudy sky occasionally being illuminated in a brief white flash. At some point I did manage to finally go to sleep and although my dreams were not pleasant, I was able to wake up the following morning without recalling any details.
I did however, feel terribly sick. Turning over on my back, my head was spinning and my stomach turned. The last thing in the world that I wanted to do was get out of bed and face the day.
Almost resembling a very large bat, Severus looked down at me, his eyebrows drawn together as he leaned forward to push my hair away from my face.
"Please stop looking at me that way." I murmured as I reached up and touched the side of his neck which was encased in the high collar of his black coat and asked, "How in the world do you feel comfortable in this?"
Ignoring my question, Severys said in a low voice, "I'll let the others know that a substitution will be needed for your classes today."
Sitting up, I protested, "No, that's not necessary. I've never missed a class."
He replied firmly, "Today you do. Go back to sleep. Madame Pomfrey will come to check on you later."
"She doesn't need to come down here, but I do want to see my grandfather if he has time." I said weakly.
Nodding, Severus leaned over me, kissed my forehead and gently stroked my hair before leaving the room. After I heard the portrait hole close, I got up and walked to the bathroom to splash some cold water on my face and put on a clean cotton night gown. Wrapping my bathrobe around me, I walked to the window and looked down at Ashlar in his paddock. While I would miss not being able to get out to see him today, I knew Hagrid would be more than happy to look after the horse.
Once again feeling queasy, I was turning from the window to return to my bed when a soft whinny from the unicorn painting alerted me that there was someone outside. As the portrait hole opened, my voice caught in my throat at the sight of my grandfather.
"I heard that you aren't feeling so well today, my dear." he smiled as he stepped into the room.
Feeling as vulnerable as a small child, I stepped forward and put my arms around him. For an unknown reason my eyes clouded with tears and I was still unable to speak. All I knew was that I was frightened and was being consumed with a dread that for the past few years had been raising its ugly head, a dread that I was normally able to push into the back of my mind.
Placing his hands on my shoulders, Dumbledore said quietly, "I came across someone in the corridor who wanted to see you."
He reached inside his robes and pulled out a fairly large, handsome silver tabby-cat. I felt my eyes widen and my heart pounded at the sight of the contented looking tom.
"Where did he come from?" I whispered as I reached out for the cat.
He answered, "I'm not really sure. He was outside my door this morning and indicated to me that he thought he could be of help to you. Then when Severus told me you were unwell I thought it would be best to bring the little fellow to you as soon as I could."
Holding the cat against my chest, I rested my chin on top of the tabby's head as he snuggled against me and purred like an engine. While the effect was soothing, it still brought mysterious tears from the corners of my eyes.
"You need to get back into bed." advised Dumbledore as he put his hand on my shoulder and steered me back towards my four poster. Still holding the cat, I curled up under the covers and leaned back against my numerous pillows and looked at my grandfather gratefully as he pulled up a chair to my bedside.
Watching as the tabby made himself quite at home against my pillows, Dumbledore assured me, "I spoke with Madame Pomfrey and she told me she would be here as soon as she could to check on you. She feels you might have the same ailment that many of the students and staff are coming down with. The house-elves will also send up some soup for you when you feel you're able to eat something."
I smiled as I stroked the cat's large silver head as I replied, "Thank you. I don't know what I would ever do without you." With those words my smile faded and once again I felt that terrible dread creeping over me. Taking my grandfather's hand I said, "I need you to promise me something."
"I will if I can dear."
"Promise me.....Promise me that you will never ever die." I begged as I began to choke up with fear and sorrow. "Please tell me there will never be a time when I look up and you're not there!"
Dumbledore's eyebrows drew together in much the same way Snape's had earlier. After a moment he answered, "I can't promise you that, Gwen."
I protested, "Yes, you can! You are Albus Dumbledore! I need you to tell me that you will always be here."
Leaning forward, my grandfather said in a low voice, "Gwendolyn, I can't do that. I can tell you that as long as I am able, I will be here for you....and later I will be with you in spirit."
I shot back irritably, "I don't want you here in spirit! I want you to be here as you are now."
"What has brought this on, Gwen?" he asked.
I didn't know myself why I was feeling so frightened of losing him and was aware that I was behaving like a young child but was unable to control my desperation to hang on to this old man.
Lowering my eyes to the cat, I whispered, "I'm sorry, it's just...you have always been here."
Reaching over and scratching the top of the tabby's head, Dumbledore said, "We all have moments when we feel, unsure and vulnerable. It's not at all uncommon when we are sick. What you need is to rest and let those who love you look after you." He leaned back in his chair as he continued, "I have a meeting I need to get to, my dear."
Almost in a panic I asked, "Will you come back?"
With an amused smile, the old wizard commented, "That brings back memories."
It did for me as well. When I was a small child, I always looked forward to Grandfather Dumbledore's visits. At the end of the visits I would always run after him as he approached the door and would ask, "Will you come back?"
Without fail, he would smile, pick me up and say, "I promise, my little Gwen Doll, I will always come back."
The memory brought me a nostalgic smile. Dumbledore looked at me fondly and said, "As long as I am able, I will always come back.
As long as I am able. The past few years he had been adding that on to his promise and each time it tore at my heart.
My grandfather continued, "Later on today I will be sure to come by to see you and as I mentioned Madame Pomfrey and of course Severus-"
I protested, "No! Please, I just want to see you."
His smile faded a little and he leaned forward and squeezed my hand as he said, "We have been through much together. We lost those that we love in one cruel blow and these past long years it has been just you and me...but it can't stay that way, Gwen. That isn't fair."
"Not fair?" I asked.
He explained gently, "You are not just mine anymore and that is the way it should be. You will always be dear to me but it's time for me to step aside. Hear me out." he said firmly as I opened my mouth to protest. "If you were so ill that Madame Pomfrey felt that you could only have one visitor, I am not the person who should be sitting in this chair. I am no longer the person that you should ask for or turn to first, not when there is now someone else who is entitled to that place."
The cat stretched contentedly then snuggled back into my blanket as I considered what my grandfather had said. After a moment I nodded silently. Dumbledore was right. I was no longer that little girl that he used to pick up and assure that he would indeed return.
With an affectionate smile, my grandfather excused himself and left for his meeting, leaving me with my thoughts and the loudly purring cat. Comforted by the tabby's presence, I curled up and dozed off and on through out the day.
Later in the afternoon I woke up and found that a bowl of soup had appeared on my bedside table. On the floor near the dining table I noticed some bowls of cat food and water had also appeared. The silver tabby now crouched over the food dish eating hungrily. After finishing my soup I started to reach for my book when the school nurse arrived.
"Just as I thought." said Madame Pomfrey after a quick examination. "You don't have anything that bed rest and plenty of fluids won't cure. Here, take this."
She handed me a goblet with a strong smelling liquid that I recognized from Severus' cauldron the previous weekend. Taking a sip it was all I could do not to retch.
"Is this to cure me or put me out of my misery?" I asked as I choked over the bitter flavor.
Smiling, the nurse answered, "I know it has an unpleasant taste but it will burn the illness out of you. Drink it all."
It was easier said than done. I wasn't sure if this remedy would actually burn away the illness or simply burn a hole in my throat. Every swallow was forced and made me feel even worse than I had before tasting it.
I was still fighting the medicine down when the portrait hole opened and I heard a couple of people enter the room. A few seconds later Severus and Dumbledore appeared at the foot of my bed.
"How is she, Poppy?" asked my grandfather.
"She would be much better if she would take her medicine." the nurse scolded.
"I'm doing the best I can." I said defensively.
"I really think you should come up to the hospital wing." Madame Pomfrey advised as she prepared to go on her way.
"Why?" I asked. "You said I needed bed rest and I'm in my bed. What can be done for me there that can't be done here?"
The nurse only shook her head and smiled. "If you need anything, let me know."
"I will. Thank you." I said appreciatively as she left the room and exited the portrait hole.
Leaning forward, I somehow managed to force the last of the bitter potion down and shook my head in disgust. Severus had come to the bedside and took the now empty goblet as he said, "I will bring another dose to you later."
"Oh no! Please no more." I winced.
"Do you want to get better or do you want Professor Lockhart to substitute in your class?" asked Severus with a scowl.
I looked up at him in surprise and exclaimed, "He didn't! He'll have the students all painting pictures of himself!"
"No he didn't. Not today, but he could if you don't recover." he answered.
With I sigh, I relaxed back into my pillows and resigned myself to fighting down however many doses of that horrible medicine I would need.
My grandfather took a few steps forward and said, "You do seem to be doing better than you were this morning. I confess I was more than a little concerned but all seems to be well here."
I smiled at my grandfather and nodded as Severus settled into the chair at my bedside that Dumbledore had used earlier.
The old wizard smiled and said, "If you will both excuse me, I have some school matters to attend to before dinner. I will come by to see you tomorrow, Gwen."
"Thank you, and don't worry about me." I replied.
After he left, I turned over and looked affectionately at Severus who was holding my hand and looking at me with mild concern.
"It's good of you to be here." I said sleepily.
Gently running his fingers through my hair as he had that morning, he whispered, "Where else would I be?"
The next couple of days went by in a feverish haze. I felt much worse before I started to feel better but Madame Pomfrey assured me that it was an unfortunate part of the process as the illness fought it's way through my system. There were times when I felt pain as though my insides were being twisted but for the most part the medication I was given kept me asleep. As Friday and Saturday went by I was vaguely aware of Dumbledore, Poppy and Severus coming and going.
The drapes were kept drawn so that the sunlight wouldn't bother me so after a while it was hard for me to keep track of the passage of time. At the moments when I did wake up there was immediately someone over me holding a goblet to my lips. Sometimes it was water, other times it would be sweetened herbal tea. More times then I would have liked, it was that horrible tasting potion that everyone kept assuring me would stop the pain and overcome my illness. Often too sleepy to protest, I would drink what I was given then allow myself to go back to sleep.
At one point I awoke on what must have been Sunday afternoon to hear the sound of male voices speaking in hushed tones at my dining table. Keeping still, I strained to hear their conversation but could only catch a few words now and then. Once I heard my own name along with Narya's. Something else was said about dreams and I heard the voice of my grandfather say, "At this time all any of us can do is keep watch."
I'm not sure how long that would have gone on if the cat would not have bounded up on my bed and sat on my pillow as he looked at me with his curious yellow eyes. I was so surprised by the tabby's sudden appearance that I began to cough. Immediately the tall thin frame of Severus in his billowing black robes swept to my bed side. Turning my eyes towards him I noticed that he had brought a goblet of the bitter medication.
"I was just about to wake you." he whispered as he leaned towards me.
Sitting up weakly I said, "You wanted to wake me so that you could give me something to help me sleep. Where is the logic in that?"
He replied, "Ah you're being difficult. That must mean you're feeling better."
"I would feel a lot better and be more happy about seeing you if you would stop bringing me goblets of this horrible stuff." I retorted as I pointed at the goblet.
"Are you going to take this willingly or do I have to pin you down and force it down your throat?" he asked as his eyebrows drew together.
"I would do as he suggests, Gwen." said my grandfather who was now also standing at the side of the bed and looking at me with amusement. "A number of the students and teachers have had the same illness but you seem to be recovering far more rapidly than they did, more than likely due to the diligent care you have been receiving."
"My ever faithful dark guardian." I snapped as I reluctantly took the goblet. "How in the world would I ever manage without him?"
Severus replied, "That's an excellent question. You're a constant source of trouble."
Looking at the awful green fluid, I winced and raised the goblet to my lips. Swallowing was becoming more difficult as I fought to keep from retching.
"The less you need it, the worse it tastes." said Severus as though sensing my thoughts that the medication was indeed even more bitter than it had been before. "I suggest you force it all down. Just because you feel better now does not mean you couldn't have a relapse."
"Severus and I have been taking it ourselves as a precaution." my grandfather smiled as though he was also sensing my thoughts and concerns about all the time the two of them had been spending in my sick room.
It seemed like I would never drain that goblet but somehow managed to get all of the foul tasting liquid down, feeling as though it was burning holes in my throat and stomach along it's way. Severus took the empty goblet and placed it on my nightstand. To my surprise he sat down, not in the chair but on the bed next to me as he swept my long hair back behind my shoulders. Without showing any reaction to this familiarity, my grandfather then took the chair that was next to my bedside.
"Now my dear," said Dumbledore as he turned towards me. "I need to ask you if you had anymore dreams while you have been asleep."
Shaking my head I said honestly, "No, at least not that I recall. Why do you ask?"
After pondering a moment, as though choosing his words my grandfather answered, "Narya has also been having some frightening visions. When two witches who are almost the same age and from the same family start having these experiences around the same time it is usually best to keep a watchful eye on both of them."
I glanced at Severus then looked at my grandfather and asked, "Narya? She's having dreams?"
Dumbledore explained, "Not exactly dreams. She has been walking in the night and having visions...visions that have a great deal of negative emotion attached to them. Now I have considered the fact that perhaps her...sleepwalking...for lack of a better term, was brought on by nerves and all of the changes she has been through and your dream was only that...a dream....but in my life I have seen that there are rarely true coincidences. Your mother and your grandmother had similar dreams."
"They did?" I said with genuine surprise. I hadn't been aware of this.
"They did." Dumbledore said soberly. "That is why it's very important to let us know if it happens again, no matter how insignificant it may seem to you."
Struck by the seriousness of my grandfather's tone, I nodded as I felt Severus' hand resting lightly against my back.
Dumbledore continued, "I would rather be too careful then discover too late that we had overlooked warnings. I hope that Narya is comfortable enough with me to let me know if she has any other experiences, just as I hope you will let us know if anything similar happens to you."
Again I looked at Severus and then back to my grandfather as I said. "Of course. I promise."
Dumbledore smiled. "Thank you, Gwen. It's good to see that you're so much better. Do you think you will be dining in the Great Hall this evening?"
Before I could answer, Severus said snidely, "She will if she behaves herself."
I looked at the black haired wizard indigently as my grandfather laughed and rose from his chair saying, "Much as we have all been missing you, Gwen, we'll all understand if you decide to have your meals here for one more evening. You must not tax yourself so soon after your recovery."
Leaning forward, my grandfather kissed the top of my head than said, "I don't want to tire you so I shall leave you in the capable care of Severus. If I don't see the two of you at dinner, have a good evening."
"You as well." I smiled as I watched him leave the room and exit the portrait hole.
After the painting clicked shut, I felt Snape's arms go around me as he gently pulled me down against the pillows. Sliding my hand into his I said, "I'm guessing that taking a walk to the paddock to see Ashar isn't an option."
"I don't think so." he answered.
As he curled up next to me I noticed for the first time how tired Severus looked. Resting my head against his neck I said, "You have been here the entire time. I think you have gone above and beyond this 'responsibility' that you have taken on."
"It has it's rewards." he murmured as he twined his fingers in my hair. "Although I suppose since you have recovered this will mean it's time for me to resume sleeping in my own room."
"I don't think so." I whispered, using the same words that he had a few moments ago.
"Well, if you insist." he said as he opened his eyes slightly.
"Oh, I do." I said as snuggled against him contentedly. "I insist."
Tuesday morning we missed breakfast entirely. As I looked at the clock I saw to my great dismay that we only had a few minutes before the start of morning classes. Jumping out of bed I wrapped myself in my dressing gown while Severus hastily got into his black frock coat and robes.
Picking up the bedside clock, I scolded the little gold bird that was perched on top of it, "You're supposed to wake us!"
The mechanical bird only blinked its eyelids and shrugged.
"I don't believe this. I just don't believe this!" Severus hissed as he fumbled with his coat's many buttons.
Tying my dressing gown shut as I followed him to the portrait hole, I assured him, "It's alright. You have just enough time to get back and change and still make your first class. Everything will be fine."
Stopping at the portrait he turned and looked at me with the whites of his eyes showing and snapped, "You need a new clock!"
Opening the portrait hole, Severus stepped into the hallway. After looking around, he quickly turned to me and kissed my mouth.
"Ah, there you are, Severus!" said an all too familiar voice.
We both let out an audible gasp and turned to see my grandfather, accompanied by Professors McGonagall and Sprout at the bottom of the staircase. I instinctively clutched the front of my robe as Severus and I looked down at the other three professors in dismay.
"Severus, I need to speak with you as soon as possible about a matter of the up-most importance." said my grandfather gravely as the two women behind him smirked.
"I...yes, of course, Headmaster." Severus replied stiffly.
Dumbedore added, "I'll be in my office. We can go over everything once you get yourself situated." Turning his eyes towards me he said, "I will see you at the staff meeting, Gwen."
Unable to speak, I could only nod weakly. Severus turned his eyes towards me uneasily and then hurried down the corridor towards his own private quarters. With one last polite smile at my grandfather and the others, I withdrew back into my own room and closed the portrait hole.
Once inside, I put my hands in my hair and started moaning, "No...oh no, no, no...That did not happen. Please tell me that did not happen!"
As I hurried to my bathroom I glanced at my rumpled bed and again started moaning aloud, "No....no, no, no."
I got cleaned up and dressed as quickly as I could. My mirror began laughing softly as I ran a brush through my hair.
"Please keep your comments to yourself!" I snapped.
Once I looked presentable, I left the room and hurried to my classroom where the students were already taking their seats. That morning I had them experiment with using their newly painted Trumps as portals. The Hermit was a relatively harmless card so the lesson was spent invoking the portal magic to step through the card and speak with the Hermit that they themselves had created. Other than a few Hermits that simply wouldn't speak and would only stare over the student's head, my classes all went smoothly that day.
Due to missing breakfast my stomach was growling through out the morning so during my break I walked down to the staff room for some coffee and pastries. Thankfully no one came in as I sat there and worried about what my grandfather, Minerva and Pomona had witnessed that morning. There was no explaining it away. It was obvious that Severus was continuing to stay with me in spite of the fact that I had completely recovered from my illness.
As I swallowed the last of my coffee I found myself wondering what my grandfather had wanted to speak with Severus about. Poor Severus. I had never seen him look as uncomfortable as he had that morning. If only that clock would have done what it was supposed to.
After my break I crept back to my classroom and worked through my afternoon classes, dreading the upcoming staff meeting. The hours flew by and I winced as I saw that the final bell was about to ring.
At long last, the day was over. I sat at my desk and watched as the students left to head back to their common rooms. With a deep breath, I stood up and noticed Severus standing in the doorway.
"Are you ready?" he asked quietly.
I nodded and left the classroom with him. As we walked along the corridor to go to the staff meeting, I glanced up at him as I tried to read his expression which was serious and grim.
"Is everything alright?" I asked tentatively.
"Something happened with your cousin. That is the reason your grandfather was looking for me this morning." he answered with his eyes straight ahead.
That information sparked my curiosity but there was no time to ask any more questions as we entered the staff room. The rest of the faculty was already assembled and I could feel every pair of eyes on us as we entered the room. The two chairs that we normally took that were directly in front of Dumbledore, were empty and waiting for us.
"There you two are." my grandfather smiled.
I felt myself blush as I kept my eyes to the floor, desperately trying to ignore the amused grins from my peers. Without a word, Severus and I took our chairs and listened silently to everything Dumbledore and Minerva needed to go over during the course of the meeting. That weekend was another Quidditch match, this time between Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff. Minerva also touched on the upcoming mid-term exams that we needed to prepare for.
Finally Dumbledore concluded the meeting, but not before he said to me. "Gwen, could you stay behind for a few minutes? There is something I need to discuss with you." Turning his blue eyes towards the Potions Master, he added, "You may as well stay as well, Severus."
We sat there in our chairs, still avoiding the looks from the other staff members as they left the room. Severus' eyes were staring at the floor as he grasped his chair's arm-rests. I nervously fidgeted with the folds of my skirts as Dumbledore drew up a chair and sat in front of us.
My grandfather was holding a leather-bound folder that he handed to me with a smile. "This is something that I'm sure will interest you."
With my fingers trembling slightly, I opened the folder and began looking through the numerous documents within it. To my surprise there were a number of black and white copies of paintings my father had created over the years. Reading over the documents I saw it was a proposal to create a gallery to honor Galen Archer.
Raising my eyes to my grandfather, I asked, "A gallery?"
With a warm smile, Dumbledore replied. "I had heard about this some time ago that the Wales Witch and Wizard Art Society wanted to create the Galen Archer Gallery and the last time I met with Cornelius at the Ministry he said they were hoping to meet with you to go over the particulars." Pointing to the folder, he said, "They have a list of paintings that they are hoping you would be willing to donate. As Galan's daughter you have the final say over what will be displayed there and of course you don't have to part with any painting you don't want to."
For a moment I simply stared at Dumbledore, then asked, "This is what you wanted to talk about?"
"Of course. What did you think this was about?" he asked.
Stammering, I answered, "Oh, I don't know...I guess...well...I just thought...."
I trailed off as I noticed Severus glaring at me with an expression that clearly said, Why don't you quit while you're ahead?
Flipping through the folder contents I said, "Well, of course I would be happy to help them in any way I can."
My grandfather replied, "Very good. This weekend they will be coming to Hogsmeade and you can go meet with them then." Turning to Severus he added, "You could go along with her if you would like, Severus."
With a sense of relief, I began looking through the images of the paintings the Arts Society was asking for permission to display. Many of them I recognized and were in fact carefully stored in the attic of my home. A few were my father's earlier work that I had never seen. It was one of these earlier pieces that made me gasp in surprise as I nearly dropped the leather folder and all of it's contents to the floor.
My grandfather leaned over to see what had caught my interest and said, "Ah yes, that one. Your father painted that before he and your mother were married."
I was vaguely aware of Severus' eyes turning towards the image and then quickly looking away, clearly wishing he was elsewhere.
The image was of my mother. My mother as she was illuminated by the warm light from the fireplace behind her. My mother as she stretched languidly on a rug and propped herself up on her elbow. My mother who's long blond hair hung in heavy waves past her shoulders with a few stray tendrils flowing around the curves of her exposed breasts. My mother as I never wanted to see her.
"They...They want this?" I asked, raising my horrified eyes to Dumbledore.
Grimacing slightly, Dumbledore replied, "That wouldn't be my first choice, but I must admit, it is a beautiful painting." Sitting back in his chair, he laughed fondly, "The first time I accidentally came in on a session, they assured me that there was nothing going on except this painting but sure enough, nine months later, there you were."
My eyes widened as I looked at the completion dates that were written at the bottom of the image. "But...if he started this work before they were married..and you just...but they...." Then the realization hit me. "Oh no!"
My grandfather assured me, "I'm sure they would have gotten married anyway. You just hurried the process up a bit."
Closing the leather folder I studied the old wizard for a moment before asking, "Were you disappointed in her?"
Dumbledore shrugged and said, "It would have been rather hypocritical of me."
Again, Severus glared at me, this time with a look that said, Don't ask. Don't you dare ask!
Unable to help myself, I swallowed and asked weakly, "Hypocritical?"
Dumbledore leaned back in his chair and sighed, "Your grandmother was very....shall we say, creative and I was a much younger man then. It would have taken someone with far more restraint than I had to resist her seductive charms." With a smile he turned his bright eyes towards me. "There was a rose trellis under her bedroom window and nearly every night-"
"You didn't climb it did you?" I squeaked.
"Oh no, I was far too afraid of noises waking her father whom I feared more than death." Dumbledore laughed. "No your grandmother would climb down. At that time her parents had a few of those Abraxan flying horses like the kind that Madame Maxime breeds. Anyway, there was usually an empty stall and we would sneak off to the stables. Oh if those walls could talk."
I couldn't believe what I was hearing and could only stare at Dumbledore in silent amazement.
There was a pause as he got a far away look in his eyes as he was obviously recalling fond memories before he continued, "Those were by far, the most pleasurable days of my life, not just because of the sex, but also-"
"No! Oh no!" I interrupted, visibly wincing as I fought to banish unwanted images that were suddenly dancing before my mind's eyes.
"What's the matter, Gwen? How else did you think your mother came to be?" he asked innocently.
Wishing I could simply disappear into thin air, I practically whimpered, "I don't want to hear about....you and Grandmother!"
Dumbledore again smiled and laughed. "There's nothing to be squeamish about. The physical expression of love is a beautiful and natural thing, wouldn't you agree, Severus?"
Severus, who was looking even more pale than normal, had at this point sank down a few inches in his chair and looked at though he was wishing with all his might that the floor would open up and swallow him.
My grandfather got up from his chair before he added, "That reminds me, the two of you might want to consider a set of portal mirrors. It wouldn't do for the students to see either of you coming and going. Now if will both excuse me, I need to send an owl to Ministry."
For several minutes after Dumbledore left the room, Severus and I just sat there in our chairs, barely looking at each other. Finally, the black haired wizard stood up and took my hand.
As I rose to my feet, he looked down at me with a weary expression and said, "You need a new clock."
I sighed and nodded in agreement.
"Do you ever stop purring?" I asked the silver tabby and I cradled him in my arms. The cat closed his eyes and nestled against my chest.
With an affectionate squeeze I placed the cat on the window-seat where he curled up against a pillow. After giving him a friendly scratch between his ears, I changed into my dressing gown, then sat down at the small table to go through the information on the Galen Archer Gallery that my grandfather had given me earlier in the day. My father's painting of my mother still made me uncomfortable but I had to admit it was an impressive work of art. In fact, had the model been anyone other than my mother, the nudity would not have bothered me at all.
As I flipped through the parchment I came across a small black and white photograph of my parents. My father was a striking man with his long blond hair and neatly trimmed beard. He stood with his arm around my mother's shoulders as they smiled at the camera. During his life, Galen had been a moderately successful artist, but like many who worked in that field, the value of his art increased drastically after his death. In fact, the way he died, being murdered by Voldemort's Death Eaters, made much of his original work untouchable except by wealthy.
My eyebrows drew together slightly as I continued to study the photograph. Both of them had been murdered by the Death Eaters and now their only child was closely involved with a former Death Eater. How well would that knowledge be received by the organization which was proposing to build the Galen Archer Gallery? Turning my eyes towards the window, I found myself feeling self conscious about Snape's dark past.
The stars were shining brightly, very much the way they were that night I had run off to the ruins in the middle of the Forbidden Forest. That night when Severus followed me and........
With a deep sigh I looked back at my parents' photograph. With a wistful smile, I whispered, "If either of you can see me now, I hope you understand."
My thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the unicorn painting swinging open. I was not terribly surprised to see Severus come through the door. With his black eyes glittering in the dim light, he came to the table and looked down at me.
Leaning back in my chair, I said, "I thought you were staying in your own room tonight."
"I was." he answered.
I waited a moment as he continued to look down at me, then said, "And?"
"And.....I found myself missing you."
"I missed you too." I said quietly as I replaced the parchment and photos back inside the leather folder.
It had only been a few hours since dinner, which was when we had last seen each other and considering the events that had taken place earlier that day, we had decided that it would be best to retire to our own quarters that night. Rising from my chair, I put my arms around his waist and leaned my head against his chest.
"You came back because my bed is more comfortable than yours. Is that it?" I asked teasingly.
He whispered, "No. I came back because I don't want to be without you."
Amazingly my clock worked as it was supposed to the following morning, allowing us to wake up in time to have breakfast with the rest of the staff. Glancing down at the other end of the table, I quickly noticed that Narya was absent. In hushed tones, Severus and Dumbledore told me what had happened to my cousin the day before and that she was still in the hospital wing. In complete shock, I listened as my grandfather described Narya's transformation into a magnificent scarlet bird, very much like Fawkes. When she attempted to fly from one of the castle's high balconies, her concentration had broken which resulted in a terrible fall, breaking several of her bones.
Through out the day I found my thoughts drifting towards Narya as she slept and slowly healed. The moment my final class was over, I went to the hospital wing to visit my cousin.
Lucius was seated protectively at the red-headed woman's bedside. He raised his weary eyes to me as I approached and watched me as I silently studied Narya's sleeping face.
Turning to Lucius, I asked, "She's an Animagus?"
"So it appears." he sighed as his gaze turned to Narya. "I saw it with my own eyes."
For a moment I pondered my own experiences as an Animagus and reflected on the first time I had successfully transformed into a swan. Although I had studied under the watchful eye of Professor McGonagall, that first transformation had nonetheless been frightening.
Amazed, I whispered, "It's unheard of for an Animagus to successfully transform on the first try, especially when one is unfamiliar with the skill as she is."
Lucius agreed, "I know but she did it."
"Has she awakened at all? Does she know what happened?" I asked.
The pale blond man shook his head and answered, "No. She has been sleeping since she fell." At that point I heard his voice begin to break. "She fell because of me. I called to her and her concentration was broken. There was nothing I could do. I could only watch as she....."
He broke off as he raised his hands over his eyes.
After a moment's hesitation, I came to the other side of the bed and placed my hand on his shoulder and said gently, "Lucius, this is not your fault. If you hadn't stopped her who knows how far she would have flown. She could have gotten lost in the forest...or she could have fallen from a much greater height. Lucius, you more than likely saved her life. She's lucky to have you looking out for her."
Lucius raised his eyes to me and smiled slightly, "That's what your grandfather said."
I replied, "And my grandfather is a very wise man. If you don't want to listen to me, then listen to him."
He was about to reply when we heard Severus enter the room. The black haired wizard glanced at me, then turned his attention to Lucius as he said quietly, "I need to speak with you. It will only take a moment."
Lucius looked at Severus, then turned his gaze to Narya, obviously not wanting to leave her side.
"I can stay with her until you come back." I offered.
Again Lucius turned his weary, reddened eyes towards me and smiled gratefully as he said, "Thank you."
With a small smile, I replied, "No need to thank me. She is family."
After the men left the room, I took the chair that Lucius had been sitting in while he had kept watch over my sleeping cousin. Glancing towards the door I could see Lucius and Severus in deep conversation, their tones hushed and their facial expressions were grim. A number of times Lucius ran his hand through his hair, looking deeply agitated.
Narya moved slightly in her sleep, then taking a deep breath she whispered, "Lucius."
Turning my attention back to my cousin, I whispered, "For your sake, I hope that Narcissa never hears of how her husband looks at you."
She didn't respond and continued to sleep. As I watched her I couldn't help but feel fearful for her but reminded myself that there was no place safer than Hogwarts. Dumbledore, and obviously Lucius, would do everything in their power to keep this young woman and budding witch safe from harm.
Once again I looked towards the doorway where Lucius and Severus were continuing their conversation. Finally Snape gave a serious nod and Lucius, looking very distressed turned and came back into the hospital room. Curious, but knowing better than to ask questions, I rose from the chair to allow the blond wizard to resume his watch at Narya's bedside.
Severus was still waiting in the hallway when I left the room. For a moment we stood there and silently observed Lucius as he leaned protectively over my cousin as she continued to sleep.
"So much keeps happening." I whispered.
Severus replied, "Yes, and it's only going to get worse."
He lowered his eyes from the couple in the room and took my hand. It was obvious from his expression that he was not going to explain what he meant by that cryptic statement so I again kept my questions to myself as we left the hospital wing.
"Run! Don't try to fight them, Gwen! Just run!" cried my mother as we fled the house.
The Death Eaters' symbol loomed in the night sky over our house...my father lay dead inside. Dark hooded figures materialized from the shadows around us. A few of them fell as my mother released stunning spells at our pursuers.
Trying to get to the woods.....Mother falling behind.
"Don't look back!" my mother called as she fell to the ground, a curse from the Death Eaters binding her body.
I felt myself covered in a rush of warm energy and for a moment I thought I too was bound, yet I didn't fall. I stopped abruptly as a few more Death Eaters appeared on the road before me. I was trapped.
I waited for the curse but it never came. The hooded figures walked past me, taking no notice of me at all.
They couldn't see me.
Yet one of them, a dark haired woman, stopped and looked back at where I stood. Her eyes glaring, she carefully worked her way towards me and studied the flattened grass beneath my feet. She stopped a short distance from me and reached out. I dared not move. I dared not breath.
"Bellatrix!" growled one of the male Death Eaters.
With a look of uncertainty, the dark haired woman turned and followed the man who had called to her. My heart was pounding in my chest. Mother was screaming.
With a cry I abruptly sat up in bed. Gasping for breath my eyes searched the familiar darkness of my room. I let out another yelp of fright as I felt Severus' arms go around me. He asked no questions as he drew me close and stroked my hair. It was several minutes before my heartbeat slowed and my breath returned to normal.
"What was it this time?" Severus asked.
"A memory." I whispered. "A terrible memory."
He said nothing more as he gently pulled me back down against the pillows and took my fear away.
The following afternoon I took Ashlar out for a gallop around the school grounds the moment the final dismissal bell rang. Hogwarts was now covered in a blanket of sparkling white and puffs of steam emitted from my horse's nostrils as we circled the castle. I allowed my hood to fall back, letting the cold winter air cleanse my mind and spirit of the previous night's dream.
Revitalized, I slid down from the saddle and walked with Ashlar back to his paddock. The gallop had done the horse a lot of good as well, as he arched his neck and switched his long, heavy black tail.
A short way from the castle, we came across Draco and his two faithful followers. They were not exactly certain how to respond to me. I was well aware I was by no means one of their favorite teachers but I was now their Head of House's significant other, which made it in their best interest to treat me with respect.
"It's getting a bit late to be wandering around outside, don't you think?" I asked them.
"We were just going in." Draco answered sullenly. His friends as always, silently flanking his sides.
"By the way, Draco, I really was impressed with the work you did on your Trumps. You exceeded my expectations." I said sincerely.
That was entirely true. Draco had for once put effort into his own work instead of tormenting Neville. In fact, he had been a stellar student the past couple of weeks.
Draco shrugged and said, "Mother is into all that. I thought she would be pleased."
I agreed, "Indeed she will be. I have no doubt she'll be very proud of you when she sees your Trumps over the holiday break."
"Oh, she'll see them before then." Draco said cheerfully. Lowering his voice he added, "She's coming to the Quidditch game."
I tried to appear natural as this news sank in. What would this mean for Narya? Forcing a smile I said, "I see. You must be so excited about seeing her."
"I am and I'm sure Dad will enjoy watching the game with her too."
Unsure of what to say, I placed my hand on Ashlar's sleek neck and replied. "Yes...Yes, I'm sure he will be." After a pause I added, "You three had better go inside now. You don't want to be late for dinner."
With a surprisingly respectful goodbye, Draco and his followers turned and went into the castle as I led Ashlar back to his paddock. As I removed his saddle I glanced a few times towards the windows of the hospital wing where my cousin still lay, healing and regaining her strength. Once my horse was safely in his paddock, I returned to my quarters to get cleaned up for dinner.
"Narcissa is coming here?" I asked Severus later that evening after I had changed out of my riding clothes and into more appropriate dinner attire.
Severus was sitting lazily in one of my armchairs, his black eyes on the flames in the fireplace as he answered, "According to Draco, yes."
"Will she only be here for the match or longer?" I inquired as I ran a brush through my hair.
Not taking his eyes from the fire, Severus replied, "I got the impression that hasn't been decided yet."
"Poor Narya." I whispered as I put on my earrings.
A silent understanding passed between us. Lucius had stopped being merely my cousin's guardian a long time ago.
"Lucius should have figured something like this would happen sooner or later." said Snape as he turned his eyes towards me.
Turning from my mirror, I pondered a moment then said, "My meeting with the representatives from the Art Association is in Hogsmeade that day. If you're sure you don't want to go with me, perhaps Narya can come along if she is feeling up to it."
With a snide smile, the black haired wizard asked, "Taking her to meet her Uncle Aberforth and the, ah, family?"
My eyebrows drew together as I said firmly, "Those goats are pets!"
He repeated softly, "His pets. In the same way that you are mine?"
"No!..I mean...wait, Uncle Aberforth is not the issue!" I exclaimed. "If Narya wants to she can come to the meeting with me, then perhaps afterward we can have lunch or explore the shops. That would be better than letting her pace around her room wondering what Lucius and Narcissa are doing."
"She will wonder about that anyway." Severus pointed out.
"True, but the fresh air and the Hogsmeade environment would still be better than driving herself crazy while she is forced to stay away from Lucius while his wife is here." I replied. Placing my hairbrush back on the vanity I added, "At least I can ask. All she can say is no. Are you sure you don't want to go along?"
Severus silently shook his head and turned his attention back to the fireplace.
"Then it's settled. I'll invite her along. If she accepts that will keep her away from Narcissa plus the two of us can start to get to know each other." I smiled as I walked away from my vanity.
Seeing that I was ready for dinner, Severus rose from his chair and said, "How good of you to grace your cousin with your presence. Your generosity never ceases to astonish me."
My nightmare almost entirely forgotten, I gently grasped the front of his robes and kissed his mouth. Looking down at me, his expression was one of mock exasperation as he said, "I don't know how Lucius does it. I have more than enough trouble just dealing with you."
Smiling up at him I said, "And you love every moment of it."
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