Snape was beyond furious, now he knew the stupid boys were safe, well relatively anyway, and not being held captive by death eaters, he could concentrate on ripping them limb from limb and then tearing the remaining pieces to shreds before roasting the small pieces over hot coals. But as always he internalised his feelings as he waited stonily for them to enter the castle.
McGonagall, in her cat form, watched as the car ejected them and trundled off towards the forbidden forest. While they collected their belongings and pets she looked at the whomping willow in despair, she could just imagine how angry the Head of Hufflepuff would be once she saw the damage. Accepting that was a problem for tomorrow, she kept to the shadows she followed the two miscreants into the safety of the castle before wending her way towards the rendezvous point. As she transformed she took a moment to study her Slytherin counterpart, despite his best attempts at stoicism she'd known him long enough to recognise the concern beyond his rage. As the two heads of house silently acknowledged each other the Headmaster emerged from one of the teachers passages that threaded through the school.
"They've landed Albus." Confirmed McGonagall.
"Good good." Dumbledore responded, absently stroking his beard and ignoring Snape's incredulous glare.
"How exactly are you planning on dealing with them Headmaster?" Snape asked sharply.
For a second Dumbledore stayed silent but surprisingly his eyes twinkled as he tried, unsuccessfully, to hide a small smile. "I intend to let you do what you do best Severus, I am letting you deal with them!"
Snape's cold eyes whipped up to pin the older man with a hard stare, fully aware that McGonagall was also staring at the headmaster with undisguised shock. "But Albus…" She started, her Scottish brogue strongly evident.
But Dumbledore raised an age spotted hand to forestall any argument as he waved his wand to cast a privacy bubble. "Listening ears would expect you do your worst Severus, do not concern yourself with holding back, Minevra and I will step in and 'save' them! I have spoken with Fudge, he has agreed to let us handle the situation after I reminded him that 'the boy-who-lived' would not be protected should he be expelled form Hogwarts or be prepared enough when the time comes….. and we can hardly exclude Mr Weasley and not Mr Potter."
Snape's two alter ego's battled with what must be done, Uncle Severus wanted no more than to reign down all sorts of hideous punishments on the boys while still keeping them safe, yet Professor Snape wanted them to suffer the same consequences as any other student who flouted not just the school rules but the laws of their world.
"Bella and Molly know the boys are safe, Arthur is prepared to take public responsibility for the car, so that just leaves us to do our part." Dumbledore inclined his head slightly, "I believe our troublemakers are in place, time for you to do your worst Severus! Minevra ….." The Headmaster gave a slight bow to his friend, "… you and I have a feast we need to attend."
As he watched the two senior Gryffindors leave Snape raised himself to his full intimidating height, fixed his cold and vicious sneer in place and stalked off towards the entrance hall, robes billowing, to play his part to the best of his despicable ability.
Bella was furious with herself, she'd contained it well during the frantic hours of uncertainty while she'd been closeted in her husbands quarters with Molly and Arthur but now the Weasleys had left she was free to release the full force of her self-recrimination.
What sort of parent was she? She'd not even noticed that Harry had not made it on to the platform. Having already said goodbye to Harry at The Burrow earlier on in the morning, she'd been so preoccupied with keeping up her pretence with Hermione and then talking with Molly as they'd left the station that she had no idea that the boy-who-lived and his best friend was missing.
It had only been when they'd exited the station and Arthur had found the car missing that alarm bells started to faintly ring. At first he'd only been concerned that a muggle could have stolen the magical car, a suspicion which seemed compounded when a small group of travellers were seen close by pointing up at the cloudy sky quickly followed by a member of the accidental magical reversal squad arriving. Looking guilty and blustering a lot under his wife's calculating stare, Arthur convinced Molly and Bella that it would be best to leave and shepherded them quickly away from the station to the Prince's abandoned shop.
As this particular floo only gave access to one other fireplace, the three redheads travelled to Prince Manor where the Weasleys could then continue home.
But they never had the chance - A message was waiting for them. The large and impressive owl, who was perched on the back of Snape's reading chair, let out a commanding hoot as Bella stepped through the fireplace. The missive was from the owner of the chair but the only thing to identify the sender was the handwriting. The message was simple: The boys are missing, the girls say they are not on the train. Please return to school.
The three adults looked at each other and quickly came to the same conclusion. "The car!" It seemed too much of a coincidence that both were missing from Kings Cross Station.
"Why would they choose to drive from London to Scotland, how are they going to find the way? Does Ron even know how to drive.. " Bella asked Molly thoroughly confused knowing that Harry had no idea.
"They won't be driving it though …. will they Arthur!" The Weasley matriarch threw her husband an accusing look and he hung his head in shame. "My husband bought a muggle car and enchanted it to fly….."
Bella vaguely remembered now that flying a car was the reason for Ron's boredom at the beginning of the school holidays. "Ohhh…. We best get to Hogwarts, we can take the floo back to Severus's quarters, that way we won't be seen."
By the time the three of them had traipsed back through the fireplace the Headmaster and his deputy were already there, debating ways to find the missing boys with the dour potions master. Snape and Dumbledore hung back at the sight of the redheaded women, both wary of their legendary tempers, but McGonagall swept passed the men and pulled the two mothers into a quick embrace.
"Severus received an owl from Hermione and Ginny not long after the train had set off," She began to explain. "They couldn't find the boys anywhere. It seems as if no-one saw them on the platform never mind the train. They borrowed Percy's owl and sent it to Hogwarts not knowing when either of you would be home. We don't know where they are at the moment….." McGonagall trailed off with an apologetic look expecting to see worry and panic on both womens face's, instead, confused, she watched as they turned as one towards Mr Weasley.
"My Ford Anglia is missing from Kings Cross." He confessed quietly.
Dumbledore and McGonagall looked perplexed. "Ford Anglia?" Asked the Headmaster wondering if this was a new type of broom he'd not heard of.
"I believe Arthur is referring to his car….. his flying car!" Clarified Snape, in a superior drawl, from the shadows of the room.
"Ahh… " Dumbledore turned towards the embarrassed man and tipped him a slightly conspiratorial wink. "… I believe, Severus, we now know where to concentrate our search."
"I am not sure the 'skies' really narrows down the pursuit Headmaster." Responded Snape tersely still frowning at Mr Weasley.
"I'm sorry Severus," Apologised Arthur, noticing the hostile look the dour potions master was aiming at him. "I should never have told the boys how it worked. I guess the temptation to arrive in style was too much for them."
Bella placed a tempering hand on her husbands arm and gave it a cautionary squeeze. "It was their choice to make Arthur, they are old enough to know the difference between right and wrong, to understand the reasons behind our statute of secrecy." Snape acknowledged, attempting in his own way to assuage the other mans guilt.
Grateful for Snape's mellowing Arthur remembered something that could help. "The accidental magical reversal squad turned up as we were leaving, maybe someone there knows something, it could be a place to start."
"I'll go to the ministry to see what they know. Minevra, can I leave you to finish the preparations for the students."
It was easily agreed what would happen next and Bella offered to make lunch for them all while Snape shut himself away in his private potions lab to start a fresh batch of veritesserum in case something more sinister had happened to the wayward children.
It was mid afternoon by the time the Headmaster returned from the Ministry of Magic with the news that the car had been seen several times by muggles in various places throughout the day but on a positive note the car seemed to be following the general path of the Hogwarts Express. The report led the adults to agree that while the boys seemed to have made a stupid and reckless decision there was no villainous plan afoot and no rescue mission needed.
Knowing there wasn't much more to be done, Arthur left to go to work, while Molly and Bella whiled away the hours gossiping and swapping recipes in the dungeon rooms. Snape had emerged briefly to suggest they send Hermes back with a message to stop the girls worrying, snag the latest edition of the Daily Prophet from the fire hearth and mutter something about "irresponsible Gryffindors" before pouring another coffee and returning to his lab.
But now she was alone and the boys extreme stupidity was weighing heavily on her, were they setting them up for a fall, had they felt the need to live up to and bypass last years adventures. Was she destined to spend every 1st of September in her husbands chambers worrying about her children and the end of each school year in the hospital wing. Had their investment in a prophecy turned the trio into dare devil heroes? She supposed she should be grateful that Hermione was not involved this time too.
Frustrated and a little unsure that Severus should really be dealing with the two Gryffindors, she opened a bottle of nettle wine, pulled a random book from her husbands muggle collection, curled on the sofa and tried to still her swirling mind. Today, more than she had in a long time, she missed the childish but reassuring presence of Misty as she once again found herself confined to the territory of the Head of Slytherin house.
Reluctantly Snape finally headed back to his rooms, the candles lighting the hallways guttering as he swept past them. He'd put off returning as long as possible because he knew that as soon as he did it would start a chain of events that did not bode well for him. The only saving grace he could see was that at least this year he wasn't accompanied by an overwhelming sense of despair and anger.
He knew she would be there, even before he opened the door and smelt her familiar perfume, there were no circumstances he could imagine that would make her leave before she knew from the snakes mouth that the boys were safe. And then their revelation that someone had prevented them from getting on the platform would inevitably lead to speculation over who would want to stop them coming to school, a conversation that would then have to be explored in more depth with the Headmaster. Snape knew he was in for a long night and briefly wondered if he should stock up on powdered Hodag horn to get through the next few weeks.
As he entered his chambers quietly, in the desperate hope Bella would be asleep, he found himself wondering if the next six years would all start with a redheaded confrontation. At least he hoped tonight's outcome would not be anywhere near as disastrous as last year.
He hoped to forestall any in-depth interrogation by simply speaking first. As he entered from the entrance hall to the lounge he announced, "They are safe in Gryffindor Tower."
But any hope of a quick exchange was instantly dashed, he watched her shake off the softness of sleep and wine as her hazel eyes focused on him and became fiercely alert.
"But are they really alright?" She demanded.
Snape sank into his favourite chair, resisting Bella's unspoken invitation to join her on the sofa, he still needed his wits at their sharpest to make it through the night, and Bella curled into his side was the quickest way to dull them.
"I imagine they are grateful Minevra and Albus came to their rescue." He commented darkly, remembering how his threat of expulsion and seemed to resonate with them almost as much as they had worried siblings, especially sisters, with their stunt. He'd phrased it so that any listening ears would believe he was talking about the Weasleys but the look on Harry's face told him his reprimand had been fully understood. "They are unhurt and, other than thoroughly chastised, unscathed by the whole episode." He paused for a moment, knowing he had to tell her, but wanting to delay what came next. "But … it is not what we first thought. They did not take the car as a planned stunt to impress their friends." He watched the dread settle in her eyes at his announcement. "They felt they had to do - something, someone stopped them entering the platform, they found the barrier would not open for them. They panicked, concerned that as they could not get in then the Weasleys could not get out!"
Snape sat back, his pale index finger poised over his mouth, watching the emotions play across his wife's face as she digested what he had just told her.
Bella sat bolt upright, her previous anger replaced with a chilly fear as she realised what her husband had just implied, "You think this is something to do with that house elf don't you?" She eventually asked sharply.
Snape neatly laced his hands and settled them across his stomach. "It would make sense." He admitted. "The elf said Harry should not come back to Hogwarts, perhaps he increased his efforts when he realised his previous warning had not been heeded."
"What does the Headmaster think?"
"Albus warned against discussing it on our walk back to the Great Hall, the portraits have ears after all. He has convened a meeting in his office tonight at ten o'clock with all the Heads of House to consider what this means."
Bella quickly checked the clock over the fireplace, "So you've got to leave soon?" She said with a resigned sigh, torn between wanting him to stay for comfort and wanting him to go and solve whatever was happening.
"Yes. Will you be here when I get back?" He felt obliged to ask even though he already knew the answer and tried not to feel resentful when her eyes lit up slightly at his question.
"Thank you." Bella knew what the offer was costing him. "I think I'll write Hermione a letter, let he know that they didn't mean to do what they did. She's pretty angry at them, I'm not sure if it was because they left her behind or she was worried!" She gave a small, strained laugh that didn't quite reach her eyes. "Is there any chance it could be another student playing a prank or … getting revenge for something?" She said the last part tentatively, knowing that the only students who would probably hold a grudge were in Slytherin House.
Snape rubbed his eyes tiredly. "We have considered it … but the level of magic needed to close the barrier could not be performed by a student. Also the House Elf situation makes no sense either way - if the elf was sent as a warning, why so cryptic? why in secret? But if he was sent by a rival to stop Harry coming back to school then why did the elf feel the need to punish himself as he was acting on orders?"
Bella had no idea what to say, all she knew was that her boy was once again in the heart of something a twelve year old should not be involved in and her husband had an extra weight on his already overloaded shoulders. With a soft sign, she watched another worry line etch itself on his already wrinkled sallow forehead, he was becoming old before his time and there was nothing she could do to help. Quietly rising from the sofa, she headed to the kitchen, she knew he wouldn't have eaten at the feast after he'd been relieved by Minevra so she set about doing the only thing she knew. Soon the smell of freshly brewing coffee and roasting chicken filled the dungeon rooms.