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The Potion Master's Muse Challenges > The Highly Unlikely Challenge

Outnumbered! by Odd Doll [Reviews - 4]


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3/5/10. After several requests, I am uploading my stories again after deleting them a few months ago.

Outnumbered!
By OddDoll

If Snape were one to do something as undignified as show his feelings in public, he would be walking along the quiet streets of Glinda’s Glen, muttering and cursing out loud. He restrained himself though, and vented his annoyance on garden gnomes – not the real ones but the ridiculous Muggle creations of paint and plaster. One tour of the small hamlet and he perfected his aim to the point that he could the knock the gaudy aberrations against domestic nature right onto their plaster butts. Two tours and he could knock them down and right them again with just two quick flicks of the wrist.

The whole of Glinda’s Glen annoyed him. Just as human beings throughout the world gathered together in little ghettos and ethnic neighborhoods, the wizards and witches of Glinda’s Glen had drifted together because of their common bond: impure blood. Half-breeds, Muggle-born, mixed marriages, and a few like Arthur Weasley who were just…well…odd, all happily hobnobbed in the little hamlet. Snape scowled at an aerial perched atop a gray-shingled structure so twisted and gothic, only magic could have made it, let alone be holding it up.

All so they can watch television and ride in estate wagons.

Living like this, with telephone wires running to every house and business, was foolish at any time. In the current political climate, it was suicidal. Naturally, the ranks of the Death Eaters spoke of Glinda’s Glen with derision and venom. Naturally, the Order of the Phoenix made it a priority to take the bastard town under its protective wing. And that was why Severus Snape walked the streets of Glinda’s Glen on a freezing Saturday morning in December when he should be in the quidditch stands watching Gryffindor play Hufflepuff. On second thought, walking Glinda’s Glen was preferable to watching The-Boy-Who-Lived-to-Become-a-Shameless-Exhibitionist-and-Attention–Hog garner yet another spectacular victory by pulling off yet another spectacular retrieval of the snitch. Someday Snape would love to see Potter swallow the snitch with his other orifice.

A flock of chickens scratched at the ground through the thin snow behind a white picket fence. Snape paused to study them for a moment. A sharp report from the end of his wand scattered them with a satisfying chorus of squawks and screeches, and much flapping of wings. He almost smiled as he resumed his tour.

“What do you think you’re doing?” a woman’s voice called out. Snape ignored it. She had been talking in a raised voice all morning while she supervised an abnormally large brood of children.

“I’m talking to you, sir, in the purple cloak.”

Snape still did not stop until he remembered his ‘disguise.’ He could not be seen patrolling the streets of Lord Voldemort’s number one target in broad daylight, or at any other time for that matter. Just as he prepared to leave, Dumbledore had insisted he wear one of his own cloaks. “Hide in plain sight,” the old wizard had said. “No one will see the man, just the cloak.” Snape had no time to think of a suitable argument, so he had taken the cloak, promising himself he would ditch it at the first opportunity. He would have too, if it had not been so damned cold.

“The purple cloak with the shiny silver stars,” the woman said. He detected a note of contempt in her voice. Well, he might deserve that for continuing to wear it.

A heavyset witch in a sensible brown cloak stepped out of a gate and stood in his path. She had long, curly brown hair, tied back with a girlish pink bow. In her arms she held an infant clad in layers of blue wool. In one smooth move she shifted the child to her left shoulder and lowered her right hand to hover over a long, slim wand-pocket.

Interesting reflex. Can I hex a woman holding a child? Probably not. There were things that, although gratifying, brought on too much trouble.

“Madam,” he said.

She surveyed him with an intelligent eye, and a half-amused look on her face.

“Your name and address, sir?”

“I beg your pardon?” Snape looked around uneasily. To his left, the street was quiet, the neighbors out for the day. To his right, five round faces, with five pairs of round eyes, stared up at him from the other side of the picket fence.

“I need to know who to bill, in case you’ve frightened my neighbor’s hens so badly that they stop laying and she needs to buy her eggs.”

“That’s preposterous,” he snarled.

“All the same, I suggest you take out your temper, which is obviously foul, on something else besides small animals and garden gnomes. Try swearing very loud. It always works for me.”

Snape sneered. “Good day, madam.”

“Good day, sir. And just remember, the folks of Glinda’s Glen take care of their own.”

The warning in her voice startled him.

“You’re not from around here,” she continued. She eyed the purple cloak. “That’s obvious. I’m just warning you, if you’re up to no good, you won’t get far. We’ve been a target for far too long not to know how to take care of rabble-rousers and troublemakers.”

While she spoke, her eyes had been in constant motion. She watched the children who, all but the oldest two, had lost interest in Snape and wandered off to play on the swings and slides and toys that littered the yard. She watched the street too, but mostly she watched Snape’s eyes and hands.

This woman has had some self-defense training. More than what one gets in school.

“I assure you, madam, you have nothing to fear from me. Now, good day,” he said, and brushed past her.

Now Snape was thoroughly annoyed, but he refrained from target practice until he turned the corner. The first gnome he spied was blasted into smithereens.

Up one street, down the next, around and around he went. In thirty minutes, at the rapid pace he walked, he could traverse every street once. Even at speed, he watched. Although it was Saturday, the streets were quiet because of the biting cold. A few children played, scraping up the remnants of yesterday’s storm into snowballs and snowmen. Like the gaggle that surrounded the annoying woman, they were usually indoors again when he made his next pass through the village.

Ten o’clock found him sipping coffee from a paper cup while standing nervously at the edge of the town square. Daytime raids, Snape thought. Lord Voldemort had been talking about trying new strategies and new ways to catch his enemies off guard. Daytime raids had been one of them, and Snape had a bad feeling about the particular interest his master took in Glinda’s Glen.

As eleven o’clock approached, he abandoned his grid and strode toward the center of town. If anything happened, it would probably be on the hour, and he needed to be there. He peered around the corner of a brick building, into the square. It was not large, a small park with a gazebo and a few benches and trees, surrounded on four sides by cobbled streets. One side of the square was formed by the town hall. Snape peered up at its clock tower just as the charmed bells struck the hour. He sank into the shadows and silently counted out the peals. When the eleventh bell echoed into silence, he waited, tense and still. Nothing happened. Snape let out a breath and eased out onto the sidewalk to resume his patrol. One more hour and he would return to his dungeon. It would feel warm and cozy.

As it turned out, he had only eleven minutes. Precisely at 11:11 a.m., he heard a sound like a long string of firecrackers set off all at once. Snape recognized it for what it was – several dozen persons Apparating at the same time. A raid, he surmised, and a big one. In seconds his wand was in one hand and the charmed talisman he wore around his neck was in the other. Snape had just two objectives: alert the Order and get himself out, lest he blow his cover.

The talisman was a clever use of the Protean charm, and Dumbledore’s own design. Inside a crystal sphere the size of a big taw marble, a small gyroscope waited. When Snape activated it, the sphere vibrated and hummed. This change of state translated to all of its progeny, namely the two worn around the necks of Minerva McGonagall and Albus Dumbledore.

Already shouts and screams echoed throughout the small village. He could hear a wizard shouting orders to his family in a nearby home. Up and down the street, storm shutters slammed themselves shut, as if the coming storm were of natural origin. Snape approved of the townspeople’s speedy reaction. He concentrated on the gates to Hogwarts and set about Disapparation.

But nothing happened.

Severus tried twice more, but had to accept the grim truth – Voldemort’s people had set an anti-Apparation shield over the town. It was a very well organized attack, and with the chances of escape reduced, it would be not just a raid, but wholesale slaughter.

Snape looked around frantically. He must notify Dumbledore of this development. The houses that weren’t shuttered tight enough to fend off a cyclone appeared deserted, except for one. He sprinted up the walk, heedless now of the spectacle he made in the purple cloak. The little gate crashed open before him, and he stormed up to the door. His fist pounded on it just below a sign that read ‘Marianne’s Day Care.’ It was the home of the woman who had accosted him earlier in the morning. There was no answer, but he heard the woman’s voice from behind the house. Snape opened the door and charged inside.

“Bloody Hell!” he roared as he tripped over the mob of children that stood just inside the door. His shoulder slammed into the wall of the foyer; his feet tangled in his robes. One child erupted into screams, which he ignored.

“The floo,” he said to the eldest, a girl of about four. She stared at him, mute with fear.

“The floo, where is it?” he asked urgently, but her lower lip trembled and she burst into tears. Another child began to cry in sympathy, while the one he tripped over still screamed in terror. However one angelic three-year-old shouted over the din, “Floo! Floo!” and ran out of the entry through a wide archway. Mindful of the absurdity of letting a baby take the lead, Snape stepped over the children in his way and followed.

He found himself in a kitchen. A fire burned behind a heavy metal screen. On the mantle rested a familiar red can with a fire-breathing dragon on the side. Dragon Brand Floo Powder. He grabbed the can and shoved the screen aside. Even before he knelt in front of the fire he had a pinch of powder in the flames.

“Albus Dumbledore,” he called out.

There was no response.

“Minerva McGonagall,” he tried.

Snape glanced at his watch – 11:15. They both would need time to come up from the quidditch stands. Lupin also had a talisman, he recalled, but would be truly desperate before he contacted him. He paced in front of the fire, but after two steps found himself blocked by his pintsized guide.

“Floo,” the child said with a grin. He pointed at the flames. “Green fire. Talk to Grandpa?”

“No,” Snape said in a tone that would have wilted any sixth-year. The child’s face fell but then split into an even bigger grin.

“Talk to Grandma?”

“No!”

“Severus?” he heard Dumbledore say.

Snape whirled to the fire. “Headmaster!”

“Where are you?” Dumbledore said. “You should be out of there by now. Is everything all right?” As always, Dumbledore gave Snape the benefit of the doubt and expressed concern for his welfare rather than anger at his failure to return. This subtlety was lost on Snape.

“They’ve put up an anti-Apparation shield.”

“Oh, dear.” The old wizard frowned. “That is not good. What else can you tell me?”

“I estimate at least thirty. It was well timed; they Apparated within seconds of each other. It’s interesting. From what I saw, the townspeople reacted in minutes by shuttering their homes.”

“Let’s hope they have prepared themselves for this.”

“I may have trouble getting out of here. I will be a target for both sides.”

“Be careful, Severus. If you find your way blocked, find some safe place to hide and ride it out.”

“I will, Headmaster.” Snape turned to find a solemn audience in the archway.

The oldest girl found her courage and was giving orders. “You can’t leave it,” she said, pointing at the fireplace screen.

“Very well,” he said. He dragged the heavy metal screen back to the fire, muttering about safety charms and hearth spells under his breath.

“Clumsy Muggle device,” was his final assessment.

Snape slipped past the children and cracked open the front door. The neighboring houses sat quiet and still in the cold December sunshine, but the ugly sounds of magical battle – the sizzle of fire hexes, blasts and screams – came from the center of the town.

The woman, whom he presumed was the Marianne of Marianne’s Day Care, came around the corner of the house just as he reached the top step of the porch. She had her left hand clutched around the wrist of a four-year-old boy, who in turn held an articulated Merlin figure against his chest.

“You have got to start doing what I tell you, Billy Brickle,” she said in an urgent whisper. “We need to get inside right now.”

“But I needed my Merlin,” the boy said with a whine.

“What you need—“ she began, but upon seeing Snape she raised her wand and shouted, “You there! What are you doing?”

“I’m just leaving,” he said as he looked around for cover, or better yet, an escape route.

“What have you done?” she shouted in alarm. Without warning, she tried to Stun him. Snape ducked and threw up a Shield. He ran to the opposite end of the porch and leaped over the railing, landing among the barren, thorny branches of a patch of rosebushes. The purple cloak caught in the thorns, and he heard it rip as he struggled to disentangle himself. Between the sounds of fabric tearing and his oaths, came the woman’s heavy steps pounding across the porch above him. With just seconds to react, he said the first spell that crossed his mind.

Quiesco Profundo!

Marianne’s mouth opened to shout something at him, but no sound came out. Her brows drew together in confusion before her eyes rolled back in her head and she collapsed backward onto the floor of the porch. Snape pulled himself free of the roses with one big tearing yank. He ran around the porch and bounded up the steps.

Billy Brickle was kneeling at Marianne’s side, shaking her upper arm and saying, “Marianne, get up. Get up.” When Snape stood over him, the boy jumped up and ran. Snape grabbed the back of the boy’s jacket and pulled him back to the woman’s side.

“Don’t run away. You need to get inside,” he said harshly. “It is very dangerous out here right now.”

He took Marianne’s wand and held his own over her. “Ennervate,” he said. The woman stirred, but did not wake. Snape swore to himself. Between the adrenalin and his haste, he managed to overdo the sleeping hex by a considerable margin. Marianne would be out for hours.

Finite Incantatum,” he tried next, but the spell had already worked itself out, and the sleep was just an after effect.

“Ennervate,” he said urgently. “Ennervate!”

Snape peered over the porch railing at the street. The atmosphere was still placid, but the sounds of battle were drawing nearer. He had to get the woman inside.

“What’s your name?” he snapped at the boy.

“Billy,” he answered. Snape still had a firm grip on the back of his jacket, or the boy would have bolted just from the look in Snape’s eye.

“Billy, I will let you go and you will open the front door so I can get this woman inside.” It was not a request. “Do you understand?”

Billy nodded, but when Snape released him, he did not move.

“The door,” Snape said.

Billy moved a few inches, looking over his shoulder at the door behind him.

“Now!”

He backed to the door, never taking his eyes off of Snape until he turned to open it.

Snape levitated Marianne’s inert body and scooted her ahead of him through the doorway. Once inside, he paused to lock the door. The children gathered around Marianne, saying “Wake up, wake up.”

“Marianne won’t wake up,” the oldest girl cried, and dropped onto the floor, directly in Snape’s path, and let out wails of anguish.

He surveyed the group of anxious children, and a nasty feeling was born in the pit of his stomach. It was something akin to how he felt when he knew that Dumbledore was about to make a speech awarding the House Cup to Gryffindor while singing their praises. If he were the type to believe in such things, he would have called it a premonition. Something told Snape he would not get out of this day unscathed.

Snape peeked through the archways off the entry. He found a toy-strewn living room, and guided the body through the arch to settle her on a long, flowered sofa. The children climbed on top of her, still exhorting her to ‘get up.’ He crossed to the window and pushed back the sheer curtain to look up and down the street. The coast was clear.

“I am going to find someone to look after you,” he said, addressing the older children.

“When will Marianne wake up?” the older girl asked while wiping her nose on her sleeve.

“In a few hours.” He gave the children his sternest look. “Under no circumstances are you to go outside.”

He swept into the hall, paused to check the street through the cracked door, and headed out in the direction of the nearest shuttered house. It was a small, brick edifice with white shutters. The moment the toe of his boot crossed over the line between the sidewalk and the front lawn, a stinging hex zapped his cheek. Snape rolled to one side but the lawn was devoid of other foliage. He did not bother putting up a Shield, but instead ran for cover amidst a rain of small hexes.

The neighbors at the next house did not answer the door, no matter how hard he pounded. He considered breaking in, but decided he would not get a warm reception. Or maybe he would get one that was too warm. Snape ran across the lawn to the next house. Here too, the occupants bombarded him with small hexes from some invisible vantage point. He retreated to the security of a large tree in the neighbor’s yard.

These people need to do something about their paranoia problem.

He saw movement out of the corner of his eye. Two figures in black, with Death Eater’s masks, skirted the edge of the street. He looked back at the day care. The windows were unshuttered, and the children virtually alone.

Snape swore and retreated. As much as he hated to, he must return to the day care. Even Snape could not leave small children alone in a battle. While still crossing the yard, he closed the shutters. He burst through the front door, slammed it shut behind him, and warded it against everything he could think of, including trolls. Then he set about warding every other door and window in the house. Although shuttered, the windows were charmed so that he could still see out. He revised his opinion of the citizen of Glinda’s Glen; they were not as foolish as he originally thought.

The children recovered from their initial fear, and followed him from room to room like a noisy flock of sheep. The three youngest children could not pass the protective spells on the stairs. They plopped down and howled until he returned. The others pestered him with questions.

“What are you doing?”

“Is Mummy coming?”

“Why’s Marianne sleeping?”

“I’m Billy. What’s your name?”

This last question gave Snape pause. Children talk, and the older ones would be able to describe him. Adding his name to the mix would be dangerous.

“You may call me ‘sir,’” he told the children.

He took a quick look out the window of a front bedroom, but the Death Eaters had disappeared. Upstairs, there were three bedrooms, one of which held a cot. He memorized the layout, sealed the windows, and hastily made his way back down. The children followed him back down the stairs, one behind the other like the tail of a kite. Downstairs, he found another bedroom with two cots. Each held a sleeping infant. Snape did his mental arithmetic and came up with seven children, all under the age of five.

The noises of his spellcasting and the children’s chatter roused the infants. The smallest woke with a wail, his eyes shut tight and clenched fists waving in the air. The other looked up with a smile and tried to pull himself up on the bars of the cot.

“What do I do now?” Snape said, thinking out loud.

“Nappies,” the oldest girl said.

He looked at the smaller child and had to agree. A line of damp showed at the hip of his woolen pajamas.

“I need to check the street,” he said. He spun around and dashed to the front window. The street was still vacant, but he checked the side windows and the back as well. Just to be sure.

When he left the room, the children had, of course, followed. The infants howled at their abandonment. Snape did a mental review of every silencing spell and charm he knew.

“Why is Marianne asleep?”

“Is Marianne sick?”

“Are you going to stay with us?”

“Why is Marianne asleep?”

“Move,” Snape snarled at the children blocking his way into the living room. He stood over the sleeping woman, his wand clenched in his hand.

“Ennervate,” he said with little conviction and less hope.

Marianne no longer moved with the charm. She was snoring softly. He removed the tattered purple cloak and laid it over her.

I am a dunderhead. A fool. I do not deserve to hold a wand.

Next Snape went into the kitchen and started up the floo connection.

“Headmaster?”

“What is it, Severus. Are there any developments?”

“Santa! Santa!” the children shrieked.

The three-year-old boy held his hands out to the fire, saying “Santa,” but it seemed there were protective charms on it after all. The remaining two children, toddler girls who seemed not to talk, and walked on unsteady legs, each clutched one side of Severus’ robes and hung there. The old man happened to be wearing scarlet robes with a matching, pointed hat.

“Get back,” Snape snapped, but Dumbledore, the bastard, was smiling and encouraging them.

“Well hello, children. How are you today?”

“Santa, I want a Guinivere for Christmas, and a Lancelot to go with my Merlin.” Billy still had the Merlin figure clutched in his hands.

“Have you been a good boy?” Dumbledore asked, playing along.

“I’m a very good boy.” Snape rolled his eyes. Fifteen minutes with Billy, and he already knew the lie in that.

“Santa,” the three-year-old said.

“What’s your name?” Dumbledore asked.

“Gabr’el,” he said, trying to hug the figure in the fire. Snape hooked a finger in the back of the sweatshirt the boy wore and dragged him backward.

The oldest girl tugged at his robes and said, “Do you think Santa will bring me a doll?”

“I suggest you ask him.” He rubbed his temples to ward off the headache that brewed there. Snape listened to Dumbledore discuss toys and Christmas pudding with the children while they wasted precious time.

“If I might speak, Headmaster,” he said when he could take no more.

“Of course, Severus.”

“Is there a counter to a sleeping hex?”

Dumbledore looked thoughtful. “There is one that I know of, but it’s very dangerous. Which hex did you use, and on whom?”

Quiesco Profundo, and I used it on the woman who cares for these children.” When Dumbledore raised his brows, he added with a shrug, “She attacked me.”

“Well, I’m afraid the best course is to let her sleep it off.”

Trying not to sound desperate, Snape said, “Are you quite sure about the counter?”

Dumbledore went straight to the heart of the matter. “Is there no one else to care for these children?”

“It seems that the townspeople of Glinda’s Glen are a bit…paranoid. I never got close enough to the neighbors to ask them.”

“Well, Severus, I’m sure it will be all over in a few hours. If the woman doesn’t wake by then, I’ll send someone from the Order to relieve you.”

The twinkle in the Dumbledore’s eyes confirmed Snape’s secret suspicion that old man was a closet sadist.

“Very well,” Snape said with a sigh. “Are there any developments?”

“The Ministry has just put an auror team in place, and as far as I know, they’re still trying to penetrate the perimeter of the town. Have you seen anything?”

“No. Just two of them at the edge of the street. I didn’t see where they went.”

“I’ll try to keep you informed. Now, children, I have something for you.” He leaned sideways for a second and sat back up with a handful of candy canes. He tossed them at the fire and they popped out in front of Snape, scattering over the hearth. The children dove for them.

“Keep me informed, Severus, and I will contact you if I have any information you need to know.”

“Thank you, Headmaster,” Snape said, as if he were actually had something to be grateful for. There was no way around it – he had to stay and look after the children.

Amidst a chorus of “open this,” Severus returned to the hall. He opened the candy canes just to quiet them.

Dunderhead. Idiot. Fool. Half-wit.

He stood in the hall, just outside the door, and listened to the babies cry for several minutes. To act would be to admit that he was responsible, and that was the last thing he wanted to be. Strategies filtered through his mind, each discarded. The other children spread out around the room, taking things off of shelves and opening drawers. They tugged at his robes and asked him questions, which he ignored.

Snape took a deep breath, told himself that even a dunderhead could care for a baby, and strode back into the room.

Does it hurt to have a wet diaper? Maybe I could just leave them there with a silencing spell.

Carefully, as if he were taking an egg from a dragon’s nest, he stretched out his arms and reached for the smaller infant. When he lifted it, his hands wrapped around the tiny chest, the child’s head lolled backward at an alarming angle.

“You have to hold his head,” the older girl said.

Snape scowled at her, but adjusted the infant in his hands until he had one palm under its head. To one side of the room sat a table with a thin mattress on top. Below it there were large packages wrapped in white paper. ‘Cuddlebums Nappy Service,’ they read, and ‘Our Nappies are Guaranteed Compatible with all Your Favorite Charms and Spells.’ This last bit gave Snape a queasy feeling. Nappy Charms?

He carried the baby over to the table and managed to remove his clothing. The naked baby cried harder when the chilly air hit his skin. One of the nappy packages was open, and Snape removed a rectangle of thick, white cloth. He held it up, looking from the rectangular nappy to the rounded baby.

“How do you get it to fit?” he said.

“You say the words,” the girl said.

“What words?”

She said something that sounded like ‘vestofanta.’ Snape sifted through his Latin vocabulary and tried, “Vestio Infantia.” The nappy slid under the child and tucked itself around his bottom. Looking around the table, he found pins, and decided to do them by hand. He could find no place to put the dirty nappy. After levitating the disgusting piece of cloth around the room as he hunted for a receptacle, he finally just made it disappear.

“Get down from there,” he ordered a child who was climbing the table’s shelves like a ladder. “That’s dangerous. And stop crowding me,” he said to the others, who were almost leaning on his elbows.

“Where did the nappy go?” Billy asked.

“Are you going to make his dirty clothes disappear?” the girl asked.

“Are you going to change Eddie, too?” Billy asked.

“The twins wear nappies. Are you gonna change them, too?” the girl asked.

“Where did the nappy go?” Billy asked again.

The second infant was considerably messier, and smellier too, but teaching potions for so many years prepared him for cleaning up all kinds of noxious stuff. What he was not prepared for was the fountain that erupted from the baby boy the moment he lifted off the dirty diaper.

“Hey!” he shouted as he jumped back.

The children at his elbow burst into laughter.

“It’s not funny,” he said with a glare.

“He’s peeing on you,” Billy said with glee.

Snape growled as he cleaned up the child and the table with his wand. “He missed me,” Snape said petulantly. When he had both infants clean, he put them back in their cots. They both howled in outrage.

“And what is all this noise about?” Snape said in exasperation.

The girl tugged on the sleeve of his robe. “Marianne puts clothes on them . And socks. And takes them into the kitchen for lunch.”

Snape looked down his long nose at the little girl. “What is your name?”

“Amanda.”

“Amanda, would you happen to know where those clothes might be?”

She nodded and ran out the door. Snape looked around, realizing that the other children were gone. He heard giggling, though. On a hunch, he followed Amanda into the living room. A large Christmas tree dominated one corner by the window. Billy stood perched on the sill, reaching for the angel that topped the tree.

“Get down from there!” Snape roared. The little ones, who had been giving Billy an adoring audience, scattered at the sound of his voice. Billy scrambled to the floor.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Snape demanded.

“I needed Guinivere for Merlin and Arthur,” he said, looking as contrite as he needed to be.

“You could have killed yourself.”

These words reminded Snape of his situation. He glanced out the window, but the street had not changed.

Meanwhile, Amanda dragged a canvas bag in from the kitchen. It had a long strap that she wore around her neck in a manner that threatened strangulation.

“This is Walter’s mummy’s bag.” She slid the strap over her head. “I’m helping. I’m a good helper, aren’t I?”

Snape hefted the bag and returned to the nursery with his little retinue. The two infants were still crying, although sporadically. He dug through the bag, wondering at the huge assortment of clothing he found there, and extracted a sleeper that was similar to the one he had taken off of the smaller infant.

“I helped,” Amanda said with pride. “I’m a good helper. Aren’t I a good helper?”

He looked down at the golden-haired child. “You have a pathological need for praise.”

She blinked her big, gray-green eyes in confusion, but smiled anyway.

“This is Walter?” he asked Billy, who was crowding his left elbow.

“Yes. His mum is Mrs. Fellowes and she has a red racing car. She said I could ride in it some day. That’s Eddie,” he said referring to the older infant. “Marianne is Eddie’s mum.”

“Ah. And the others?”

“Gabriel,” he said, pointing to the three-year-old who had shown him the floo. “Gabriel has a broom. My mummy won’t let me have one.” He pointed to the two toddlers. “Emily and Savannah. They’re twins. Their ’dentical, but Savannah always wears pink and Emily always wears purple and that’s how you can know which one they are.”

They were also digging through the contents of the bottom dresser drawer, scattering them across the carpet. Snape eyed another sleeper that looked like it might fit Eddie, and he snagged it from the floor at his feet. Getting the clothing on the child, who seemed to have grown two extra pairs of arms and legs, was trickier than he thought it would be.

“Be still,” he growled at the infant. Eddie just cooed and waved his arms and kicked his legs even more. At last, he lifted the child, with the snaps mismatched all down his sleeper, and turned to get Walter. Billy and Amanda stood in his path.

“Move.” They scrambled backwards.

It was a feat of coordination to lift two infants at once while supporting the back of their heads. Snape finally levitated them into his arms.

Eddie and Amanda giggled as if it were the funniest thing they had ever seen.

“Why did you levitate them?” Billy asked. “Marianne never does that.”

Snape ignored the question, more concerned with Eddie, who had grabbed onto a hank of Snape’s hair and pulled it toward his mouth.

“You don’t know where that hair’s been,” he said as he yanked the hair out of the baby’s hands.

Eddie laughed and grabbed for more hair. Snape decided he had more serious things to worry about than baby slobber in his hair. Besides, he intended to wash it that night. He turned to the door and found it blocked by five children.

“Move!”

“What are you going to do?” Amanda asked.

“Are you going to stay with us?” Billy asked. “Is my mummy coming back? She came once when Marianne was sick.”

“Is my mummy coming?” Amanda asked.

“Mummy?” Gabriel said.

Snape waded through clothes, children and questions, and made his way into the kitchen. There he found a number of highchairs, and lowered Eddie into one. He sat up for four seconds before his head and shoulders slid sideways. Too young to sit up, Snape thought, and Walter was too small to even hold his head up. He looked around, desperate to get rid of his tiny charges. Amanda came to his rescue, racing into the living room to bring back a blanket. She laid it by the fire and told Snape to put the babies on it.

“Marianne makes it so they can’t get stepped on,” she said.

Snape made a spell-barrier around the blanket, thankful that he knew at least one spell useful in his current situation.

“Can I have Savannah’s candy cane?” Billy asked. Red food dye stained his face, clothes and hands. The other children were equally filthy, except Amanda, who ate her candy by taking dainty nibbles.

“No,” Snape said.

“I’m hungry,” Gabriel said.

“Me, too.” Billy said.

“Me, too.” Amanda chimed in.

Walter and Eddie whined in a hungry tone, and even the twins piped up, saying, “Foo’. Foo’.”

Snape felt a bit of a rumble in his own stomach. He knew how to make tea, boil eggs, and fry a pork chop. Somehow, he did not think that small children ate those things. Still, how difficult could it be, especially when compared to something like brewing Wolfsbane Potion? He opened the refrigerator, and found baby bottles already prepared. They even had the names Walter and Eddie written on the sides. Snape silently thanked Marianne for her organizational skills, and went to the cabinets. From behind him he heard a scream. He whirled around to find one of the twins sitting on the floor, screaming, while Billy stood over her with a candy cane in his hand.

Snape advanced on the youngster with his wand out. He leaned over the boy until they were nearly nose to nose, and whispered, “I don’t know what Marianne lets you get away with, but when I give an order, I expect it to be obeyed. Now, unless you would like to have a candy cane for a nose, you will give that back immediately.”

Billy gave the candy to the girl with a mutinous expression on his face. Apparently, he had more spirit than sense, for when Snape’s back was turned he said, “If you did that, my daddy would turn you into a candy cane.”

Without looking back, Snape said, “My daddy can beat up your daddy any day.”

“I ate my candy cane,” Amanda said.

“What do you usually eat?” Snape asked.

“Peanut butter,” Billy said.

“Pudding,” Gabriel said. “Chocolate.”

“Juice,” said Amanda.

“Sit,” he ordered the children.

“I’m already in my chair,” Amanda said.

“Amanda, you have a future as a pathetic brown-noser,” Snape said.

There was much shuffling and squirming behind him as he rummaged through cabinets in search of food for the children. However when he turned back to the table, they were all seated, except for the twins, who needed to be lifted into their highchairs. He set out some cups, one of which had a smiling face on the side, and trouble started almost immediately.

“It’s my turn for the smiley cup,” Billy announced as he leaned three-quarters of his body across the table to reach for it.

“No, it’s not. It’s my turn,” Amanda said.

She, too, launched herself across the table. The two grabbed the cup, wrestling over it. Billy shoved Amanda in the chest, while she lunged at his arm with her teeth. Snape made a mental note that she was not quite the angel she pretended to be.

“Let go. It’s mine,” they both were saying.

Petrificus Totalis!” Snape shouted.

The two children froze. Amanda’s bared teeth hovered just an inch above Billy’s forearm.

“While you are under my care, you will behave, or you will find yourselves spending the rest of the day like this.” As the words came out of his mouth, he had an idea.

Why didn’t I think of it sooner? Petrificus Totalis, or the sleeping hex?

He considered his options for far longer than most men would have, but came to the conclusion that he could not put the children under a spell or hex for the rest of the day. There were laws against that sort of thing, and someone would know.

Snape took the cup before releasing the children, and made a show of returning it to the cabinet. Amanda and Billy pouted for less than a minute before their next barrage of comments and questions. He made peanut butter sandwiches and poured milk amidst a flurry of instructions and comments about slicing crusts and cutting sandwiches, and who gets how much milk. His next challenge came from Gabriel.

“No sandwich! Pudding!” the boy screamed when his sandwich was placed in front of him. “Chocolate!” He flung the sandwich on the floor, and then slammed his fists onto the table hard enough to upset his milk. He had been angry, but the cold milk pooling in his lap sent him into hysterics. At the same moment, the infants, whose hunger cries grew stronger every minute, burst into shrill screams. Across the room, the twins simultaneously clasped their jelly-smeared hands over their ears, and began to howl. As for Billy and Amanda, their reaction was a fit of giggles.

“Quiet!” Snape roared in frustrated rage. He noted that his throat was becoming raw from yelling at the children. He possessed just enough self-control to stop himself from throwing Stun curses about the room, but he gave into his darker inclinations and cast a hex of his own devising – The Cone of Silence. The children each found themselves encased in an invisible bubble that floated in midair. They all screamed now, but Snape couldn’t hear it.

“Severus!” he heard from the fire. “Why are those children floating about the room?”

Severus Snape was not made a double agent just because he looked the part. With perfect aplomb he said, “I was hoping it would calm them, Headmaster.”

“It doesn’t seem to be working,” Dumbledore said dryly.

“No, but at least now I can deal with them one at a time, and get this riot under control. Was there something you needed, Headmaster? I would like to get these children down as quickly as possible.” Take your time, Albus.

“I just wanted to let you know that it may be several hours before we can get someone in to relieve you. The townspeople have sealed off every exit and are being quite stubborn about letting people in.”

“They seem to be a lot of hard-bitten folks here-about. The few encounters I had with them were…less than friendly,” Snape said in a conversational tone. In his head a little voice was screaming, ’hours!?!’

“I imagine they have to be. I will let you go, but please contact me if you learn anything.”

“Yes, Headmaster.”

Snape closed his eyes and let out a long-suffering sigh before he let Amanda and Billy down. They sat on the floor and stared up at him with their mouths open.

“Can we do that again?” Billy asked.

“Don’t tempt me. Amanda, where is the pudding?”

She stared up at him for a second. “In the refrigerator. Marianne made some special for Gabriel today because he had been without nappies for a whole month.”

“Get it. Billy, get in your chair.”

Snape put Walter and Eddie back down on their blanket, and set a silencing spell over them. He realized that they needed to be fed, but he wanted to deal with the others first. Only when bowls of pudding were set out at all the children’s places did he let the others down. To his surprise, each of them clung to him when he lowered them down from their bubbles. When he peeled their little arms from around his neck, they cried and clung tighter. He was unused to being needed in this manner, and was quite sure he did not like it, but he let them cling to him anyway so they would not scream in his ear.

And this is how tyrants are made.

At last he appeased them with pudding, shoving spoonfuls into their mouths until they were more interested in sitting and eating than receiving comfort. After building up the fire, and trying to enervate Marianne one more time, he retrieved the bottles from the refrigerator and set about feeding the infants. The kitchen held a rocking chair, which he suspected was put there just for the feeding of babies. He drew on his Care of Magical Creatures courses from so long ago, and actually felt competent to perform this one task. He nestled the babies in the crook of each arm, warmed the bottles, and had them sucking greedily in no time at all. It was not exactly a pretty picture, Snape rocking in the chair with its faded, flowered upholstery and the two infants in his lap, but for the first time that day, they were all quiet and content.

“I have to go potty,” Billy said.

“Please tell me that’s something you don’t need me for,” Snape said.

“Uh uh,” Billy said, and tore off into the hallway at Billy speed – running.

“Can we have more pudding,” Amanda asked.

“Eat as much as you want, but you will have to serve it.” Marianne can clean up the mess.

From the hallway he heard a liquid sound that indicated Billy had not shut the door.

“I’m pooping!” Billy shouted.

“One, two, three, four,” Amanda said as she spooned out pudding for Gabriel.

After a few minutes there came the sound of water running, and Billy returned from the bathroom.

“I peed, and I pooped, and I flushed, and I washed my hands,” he announced with pride.

“Fascinating,” Snape said.

“One, two, three, four,” Amanda said, spooning out pudding for Billy.

“If you can only count as high as your age, Amanda, you won’t be ready for Hogwarts until you die.” And then it occurred to him – all of these little miscreants might some day be his students. He could hardly wait.

Billy and Amanda finished their lunch and he sent them to wash, with instructions to help Gabriel. When the babies finished eating, he raised them to his shoulders in preparation to move them back to the blanket. Four things happened then, almost simultaneously. Both babies spit up, sending curdled milk down the front of his robes, and, on the principle of ‘in one end and out the other,’ both peed. Snape, it seemed, had not used the correct nappy charms, and the urine soaked straight through the nappy, the babies’ clothing, and his robes.

“Bloody hell!” he shouted.

All the children laughed then, the twins laughing because the older ones did. Snape stomped off into the bedroom and laid both on the changing table. Now he understood why their mothers packed so much extra clothing. Nappy Charms. Not for putting on the nappy, but for waterproofing it. Snape knew waterproofing charms, but as he raised his wand to waterproof two clean nappies, he realized that he would be waterproofing them inside and out. The inside needed to be absorbent, he thought.

It was a very sour-tempered Snape who laid the clean, dressed babies back in front of the fire. He cleaned his own clothing in the bathroom before getting the twins down from their chairs. They had pudding in their hair, on their shoes, and everywhere in between. He sat them on the bathroom counter and wiped them down with a rag until they were more wet than dry. The odor they exuded told him that they, too, needed nappies.

“Can I watch Barney?” Amanda asked when he set the twins in front of the fire in the living room.

“Sure,” he said, wondering what Barney was.

From the kitchen he heard music start up, and the children singing off-key to, “Barney was a dinosaur….” He started up the floo and called for Dumbledore.

“Headmaster, there is something I need.”

“What is that, Severus?” Dumbledore was not behind his desk, but standing at a side table, looking into a viewing orb. “I was just trying to get a view of the town, but the shield is blocking everything.”

With as much severity as he could muster, Snape said, “Nappy charms, and please hurry.”

The old man smiled, damn him. “Of course.”

In the living room, the children were bouncing off the walls. The television showed a gigantic purple creature and a number of sickeningly happy children dancing and singing an inane song. His little charges acted out the dance, sang, danced on the coffee table, and stood on the chairs. Too much sugar, he thought. Snape twisted the remote control from Billy’s hand, studied it, and pressed the little red button labeled ‘Power.’ Bedlam ensued.

“Barney! Barney!” Gabriel screamed. He plopped down from the couch and bawled.

Amanda fell off the coffee table and screamed blue murder. “I fell! I fell!”

Snape watched this with his arms folded, wand poking out from one hand, remote in the other. This was worse, far worse. Even the twins went up to the television to pound on the blank screen.

“When you are quite finished,” he said in his iciest tone, “we will discuss your behavior.” It did not work. Snape made a mental note that there was a stage of maturity before which logic made no discernible impact.

“Quiet!” he roared. That worked.

“You will sit down and quietly watch your show. There will be no standing on furniture. No running in circles. No unnecessary noise. Understood?”

They nodded, except the twins, who sucked their thumbs and sniffled. Snape handed the remote to Billy.

“Whatever you do,” he warned, “do not press the red button.”

Amanda walked up to him, pushing up her sleeve to reveal a red spot on her elbow. “I fell,” she said, wiping her nose against her shoulder. “I need a kiss.”

Snape stared at her, dumbfounded. So astounded was he, that he complied. Amanda smiled as if she had never been hurt before she skipped off to sit in down in front of the television.

Throughout all of the commotion, Marianne slept like a baby.

Snape was not sure he could take much more as he returned to the kitchen. His pulse throbbed in his head, and his skin itched and prickled. If much more went wrong, he would hex somebody before the end of the day.

Dumbledore waited before the floo. He cooed at the babies, who were both still awake. Snape sensed figures behind Dumbledore, and when the old wizard moved aside he saw half the female staff of Hogwarts assembled in the office.

“Headmaster,” he said in an angry whisper, “I thought we would keep this just between us.”

“Oh, don’t worry, Severus,” Dumbledore replied affably. “They won’t say a word to anybody.”

“It’s what they’ll say to me and each other that I’m worried about.”

Madame Pomfrey, Minerva McGonagall and Madame Hooch sat around Dumbledore’s desk, drinking tea and chatting about babies.

“I know very little about the subject,” McGonagall was saying. “I don’t think I’ve ever changed a nappy in my life.”

“I’ve done a few,” Pomfrey said, “but there isn’t much call for it here.”

“Well, I can change a nappy in my sleep,” Hooch said in her brusk, gravelly voice. “Oldest of five I was.”

Irma Pince entered carrying a book the size of a gravestone.

“I knew we had something,” she said as she dropped the book onto the center of Dumbledore’s desk. It landed with a hollow thud. “Workmore’s Household Encyclopedia.” She lifted the cover and slid a finger down a page. “Ah, here it is. Baby Care.” Hooch went to stand at Pince’s shoulder and soon they were discussing the merits of various charms.

“Severus, it was so kind of you to volunteer to watch all those children,” Pomfrey said, her skepticism barely contained. Snape surmised that Dumbledore had not told them the entire story. He was not sure if that was a good thing or not. Did he want them to think he was sensitive and caring, or that he had hexed a woman?

“Yes, I can hardly believe it,” McGonagall said. Trust McGonagall to smell a rat.

“Oh, there is a softer side to our Potions Master,” Dumbledore said with that god-awful twinkle. “I’m sure that if you ladies tried hard enough, you could get him to tell you about that niffler he adored so much when he was a boy.”

Snape slammed his forehead into the mantle. It hurt, but the pain took his mind off his humiliation. Pince delivered the charms then. He conjured a quill and wrote them on his forearm, right over his Dark Mark. Take that, Voldemort!

At last, the children were fed, cleaned, and all busy playing with toys and watching the television. Walter dozed off, and Snape was all-too-happy to tuck him into his cot. Eddie wanted to be held, but he was small and light, and content to chew on a small toy that Amanda provided. The girl may be insufferable, but she was damn useful. It would have been almost relaxing if it not for that dinosaur.

“Can we watch it again?” Billy asked when the show faded out after the last schmaltzy song.

Snape looked around at the faces of the children. They all had had a rough day. “All right, but this is the last time.”

The twins dozed off facedown on the floor during the second showing, giving Snape an idea. “Nap time,” he called out when the show ended a second time. The children grumbled, but pulled out thin mats and blankets from a trunk in one corner. Apparently, Marianne made this part of their routine. He tried to put Eddie in his cot, but every time he put the baby down, he cried. Snape decided there was nothing for him to do but wait, so he found a blanket and settled in a chair with his feet up, the baby on his shoulder. In minutes the entire household was fast asleep.



It was growing dark when Marianne awoke. She blinked and stared, taking in the room with the sleeping children. A dark-haired man slept in her recliner with her son on his chest. With a start she recognized him as the man she had stunned earlier in the day. Not only that, he was her old Potions professor, Severus Snape.

She had thrown a Stun Hex at Severus Snape.

I always wanted to curse that greasy bastard.

Parents began arriving to take their little ones home. They delivered news of the raid, and she relaxed. It was almost over.

“He must have had a hard day,” Amanda’s mother said as they stood over the sleeping wizard.

“You should see my kitchen,” Marianne said. “He gave them candy and pudding. They must have been climbing the walls.”

“No wonder he’s sleeping so soundly. Well, I’m sure Amanda will tell me all about it, in her incoherent way.”

Snape awoke then, and Marianne took her son from him.

“Professor Snape,” she said. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m here on Dumbledore’s orders,” he said. He sat up and adjusted his robes.

“Whatever for?”

“We thought you might be in danger, and it seems that you were.”

The women exchanged glances. “Well, of course we were. We’ve always known that. That’s why we had the emergency plan.”

Snape raised an infamous eyebrow, but the two women were far too mature to be intimidated by it. “What emergency plan?” he asked in an icy growl.

“The anti-Apparation Shield, closing off all the town exits, sealing off our homes. That kind of thing,” Marianne said with a shrug. “We’ve been practicing self-defense and rehearsing our plan for over a year.”

Snape felt that his blood pressure might finally blow. “You put up the anti-Apparation Shield, not the Death Eaters?”

“Well, yes,” Amanda’s mother said. “We had it all rehearsed. There were a few injuries in the beginning, of course, but we had them barricaded in the Town Hall most of the afternoon. They finally surrendered about an hour ago. A few got away, but we captured over twenty of them.”

“So, you were never in that much danger,” Snape said in his deceptively silky tone – the one that he used when his temper was at its most dangerous. “And I never needed to be here watching over you at all?”

“No, not at all,” Marianne said. “I doubt they even let the aurors in. Too much confusion with all those strangers wandering about.”

Snape rose to his feet. “Is the Shield still up?”

“No,” Amanda’s mother said. “They took it down just a few minutes ago.”

“Then I think I shall be going.”

He caught the women smirking at each other, but he let it go.

“We should be off, too. Come, Amanda. Say goodbye to the professor, and thank him for watching you this afternoon.”

Amanda put down the toy she had been amusing herself with and walked up to Snape. She grabbed his sleeve and pulled at it until he bent down. When Snape leaned down close enough, she wrapped her arms around his neck and gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek.

“Goodbye, Sir. Thank you.”

Snape blinked, and decided she would lose ten house points on her first day at Hogwarts. Except if she turned out to be a Slytherin.

The End

Outnumbered! by Odd Doll [Reviews - 4]


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