Marietta Comes to Hogwarts

It all began with a letter.

A letter that arrived ten days before Christmas, delivered to Professor Snape of Hogwarts School by Express Post. The return address on the envelope read, DiSarno 432 Mystery Way, Freehold, NJ USA.

Severus recognized the address immediately, this was not the first time he'd received letters from there. It seemed as if his little four-year-old niece, Marietta, wrote him every other week. I wonder if it could be a Christmas card? he mused.

But what he found inside wasn't a card wishing him the joys of the season.

It was a cry for help.

Dear Sev,

I'm at my wits end. From morning till night the only words I hear out of Marietta's mouth are I miss Uncle Sev, when can I go and see him? Today? I don't want to wait till the fourth of July, it's too long. Why can't we go and see him for Christmas? He's all alone over there with Arista. I kept inventing one excuse after another until finally I realized that the only thing that would satisfy her was to write to you and ask you—would you mind if we came over and stayed three or four days before Christmas? If you'd rather not have an overactive four year old rampaging through your peaceful house, or have made other plans to celebrate Christmas at Hogwarts, I'll understand. And somehow, I'll make her understand, though that'd take a miracle, God knows. Still, they say 'tis the season for them.

I know this is extremely short notice, and I apologize, but I was hoping she'd grow bored and forget about it. No such luck, I'm afraid. She's like a dog with a worn out bone, gnawing it to the marrow. Please write back ASAP, Sev.

Anything to save my sanity.

With haste and love,

Sandy

Severus read the letter once and then reread it, a smile quirking the corners of his mouth. He wasn't surprised his sister-in-law hadn't been able to convince Marietta to forget about a visit to see him, the kid was an Amarotti to the bone, and they were stubborner than ten mules.

He was also amused at Sandy's assumption that he'd have made plans for the holiday. Until recently, up until last year in fact, he'd spent Christmas at the school, alone except for Dumbledore. Last year, he'd spent it with Arista, at home in London, the first Christmas he'd had with a family member since his mother had died when he was sixteen. This year, he'd be celebrating the holiday with Tricia Greenbough as well, Arista's friend, since he'd unofficially adopted her over the summer, removing her from a terrible situation at home and a mother who was slowly destroying her with her selfish ways. But other than the girls, he'd made no other plans.

He considered Marietta's request for several minutes, picturing the eager little minx in his mind, with her devilish grin, huge blue eyes, and flyaway strawberry blond hair. She had the cherubic features of a Boticelli angel and a mischievous streak inherited from Lucifer himself. She often drove him crazy, but for all of that he loved her fiercely. And she, in turn, adored him, calling him her favorite uncle, and was not at all intimidated by his sometimes stern manner. Like all Amarotti women, she knew a decent man when she saw one.

And, truth be told, he'd missed her these past months as well. Why not? he thought. Why not have them over for an early Christams? It'll be a novel experience, me having relatives visit for a holiday. Half my students probably think I spend Christmas brooding like a bat in front of my fire, like Scrooge. Maybe once that was true, but no more. Not since Arista. Now I have someone to share the holidays with, there's no reason to be alone and miserable, wishing for something I never had. Yes, I'll write to Sandy and tell her to come for a short visit. Then maybe the little imp will get out of her hair for awhile.

The fall term was pretty much over, he only had two more Potions finals to give and then grade and he was done with the semester. He would go home to Spinner's End with Arista and Trish and plan Christmas dinner. Hagrid would deliver the tree to his house same as always and he and the girls could decorate it and go shopping for presents in Diagon Alley and London.

Actually, he'd already made Trish's present, a pair of earrings and a necklace to match the silver and gold star bracelet he'd given her for her birthday in July. Tricia loved the bracelet, she almost never took it off and said it was the best present she'd ever gotten. He hoped she'd like the other pieces just as much, it was little enough considering the neglect she'd been forced to put up with from her parents, who were selfish morons in his opinion. Hopefully, this would be a holiday worth remembering.

He pulled out a quill from his desk drawer and began to write.

Thirty minutes later, he'd sent his reply off with Nightfall, his tawny owl, casting an Express Post spell on him so the letter would reach Sandy that night. Now the only thing he'd have to worry about was the menu for dinner and presents for Sandy, her husband Paul, and Marietta. He'd consult the girls, they probably had better ideas than he did, inveterate shoppers that they were.

***************
The great bronze dragon, Fireflash, touched down lightly in the courtyard of Hogwarts School, landing so precisely his long tail didn't even disturb the various sculptures situated around the flagstone square. It was around eight o'clock in the evening, and most of the students were either studying, packing to go home, or sleeping.

Arista, Professor Snape, and Albus Dumbledore waited by the castle entrance to greet the weary travelers from America. At least Sandy and Paul were probably tired, Fireflash could fly three times the distance across the Atlantic and not get fatigued. As for Marietta, they could see her waving from the dragon's back excitedly, and telling her father to hurry up and unfasten her seatbelt.

"Hurry, Daddy!" Marietta cried, wriggling eagerly. Her black stuffed dog, Sevvy, was clutched tightly in her arms, she never went anywhere without him. "I want to say hi to Uncle Sev."

"Hold on a minute, Miss Impatience," her exasperated father said, trying to figure out the order he had to undo the straps. "I can never remember how to undo these blasted things."

Paul muttered a swear word under his breath and tugged at the right shoulder strap. It wouldn't budge.

"Problems, Paul?" Fireflash asked, swiveling his head around to peer at the wizard and his daughter. "Here, allow me." The bronze muttered a word in dragonspeech, the true language of all dragons, and the straps unbuckled themselves and drew back, allowing Marietta and Paul to climb out of their seat upon the dragonsaddle.

"Thanks, Flash!" Marietta said, then immediately started to run across the dragon's back.

"Marietta, wait!" Sandy called, undoing her own straps. "Let Daddy carry you."

"What for?" her intrepid child asked. "I can walk my own self." She promptly slid down the dragon's shoulder as if it were a playground slide, landing easily upon the ground.

She was dressed in a soft pink quilted jacket and matching boots with sheepskin cuffs and lavender mittens. Underneath her coat was a white turtleneck with a reindeer on it and white jeans embroidered with red hats. Her little face was flushed from the cold, framed by her hood, which flew off as she darted across the courtyard, revealing her bright strawberry blond hair, silken curls that tumbled down her back like a cape.

"Uncle Sev! Uncle Sev!" she yelled, making straight for the tall man in his black wizard's robes standing at the entrance. "Did you miss me?" she launched herself at him, her blue eyes sparkling in unfeigned delight.

"Hello, little minx!" he smiled, catching her up and hugging her to him tightly. "I missed you awfully, Marietta," he whispered in her ear.

"Me too, Uncle Sev," she admitted, kissing him on the cheek. "So much that Sevvy and I couldn't wait till the Fourth of July, so we came for Christmas instead."

"And I'm very glad that you did," her uncle said. "Did you enjoy riding on Fireflash, imp?"

"Oh yes! It was the bestest thing ever. Only I had to tie Sevvy's leash to me so he wouldn't get lost or fall off, 'cause Flash flies very very fast, Uncle Sev."

"But it's fun, isn't it?" asked Arista, grinning at her small cousin. "Hi, Marietta."

"Hi, Arista!" she reached out to give the older girl a hug as well. "Me and Sevvy missed you too! And Scout and Comfrey." She glanced around for the Snapes' dog and cat. "Where are they?"

"Around somewhere, they go where we do," Arista answered. Then she turned to greet the dragon and her aunt and uncle.

Sandy and Paul hugged and kissed her and Severus in turn. Sandy was a taller version of her older sister Amelia, who'd been Severus's wife. She had auburn hair and brown eyes and was wearing a red coat with brown faux fur about the hood, tan pants, and a green shirt with a snowman on it. Her boots were classic black leather.

Her husband, Paul, was a medium-sized man with curly blond hair, blue eyes, and an open genial countenance. He wore a long brown duster, brown boots, and a bright red and green scarf with green gloves. "Good to see you again, Sev," he greeted his brother-in-law. "Merry Christmas!"

"Same to you, Paul," Snape said, clapping the other man on the shoulder. "Hello, Fireflash," he called to the bronze, who gave him a dragonish smile.

"Hi, Severus. Been awhile, hasn't it? You look good, Potions Master. Bet those kids keep you on your toes, huh?"

"When they're not driving me crazy," Snape acknowledged. "Merry Christmas, Flash."

"Merry Christmas to you too, Sev and Arista." The bronze dipped his head in respect, then said, "Well, I'd best be off, before that crosswind off the Arctic Ocean hits and I have to detour back to New York. I'll see you in four days, Sandy and Paul."

"Goodbye and thanks again, Flash!" they called, waving as the dragon spread his wings and took off, rising higher and higher into the sky like a bronze streak until he vanished from sight.

Then Snape put a hand on Marietta's shoulder, she was standing next to him now, clutching Sevvy and staring about her curiously, and said, "Marietta, can you say hello to my Headmaster, Professor Dumbledore?" He turned her to face the purple-robed old wizard, who was smiling brightly, his eyes twinkling behind his half-moon glasses.

Marietta gazed up at Dumbledore, her blue eyes widening. Then she grinned and held out a hand. "Hi, I'm Marietta! Do you live here too like Uncle Sev?"

"I do, and it's a pleasure to meet you, Marietta," Dumbledore took her hand and shook it. "Welcome to Hogwarts, child."

"Thanks. This is Sevvy, he's my bestest friend," she held out her stuffed dog. "Uncle Sev gave him to me and he has a heartbeat and he loves you when you hug him like a real dog. Want to see?"

Dumbledore knelt and took the dog in his arms and hugged it. He smiled delightedly, for the dog had been enchanted by Severus and Arista so it could be a companion for the child. "This is a very special dog, child. And I can see that he loves you very much." He gently handed Sevvy back to her.

"He does, just like Uncle Sev," Marietta informed him. "All the other kids in my class want one like him, but there's only one Sevvy, and he's all mine." She hugged the dog possessively. Then she cocked her head and remarked, "You know, you look like Santa Claus with that long beard. Are you related to him?"

"Umm . . . I think we might be very distant cousins," Dumbledore replied, chuckling. "I've been known to wear red robes on occasion."

"Have you ever flown in a sleigh pulled by eight flying reindeer?" she queried. "Oh, I mean nine, 'cause you can't forget Rudolph. He's the red-nosed reindeer. D'you know about him?"

"No, but you can tell me all about him inside," the Headmaster said. "And while I don't fly a sleigh, I can fly on a broomstick." He turned to welcome the two older DiSarnos, who were blushing slightly at their daughter's unabashed comments.

"I apologize, sir, for her forwardness," Sandy began. "I've tried to teach her not to say the first thing that comes into her head . . ."

"That's quite all right, Mrs. DiSarno," Dumbledore laughed. "Children her age aren't being critical, just honest. I find it quite refreshing, actually, after dealing with some of my colleagues in the Ministry, But please, come inside, it's too chilly to discuss such matters outside. We have a warm fire and spiced cider awaiting you."

He led the way inside the castle. Marietta grabbed Severus by the hand and followed immediately, chattering away. "Do you have hot cocoa with marshmallows, Uncle Sev? 'Cause that's my favorite drink when it's cold out."

"I think we can manage that, Marietta," he said as they walked into the Great Hall.

The DiSarnos' trunks were placed in the entrance hall, they planned to spend the night in the castle and then travel to London on the Hogwarts Express in the morning, along with Trish and Arista. He had gone back to Spinner's End two days ago and decorated the house with the girls, returning to the school for his finals and to meet his relatives.

Soon they were sitting cozily in front of the roaring fire in the Great Hall, which had been decorated for Christmas with large swags of greenery tied with red velvet bows and jingly brass bells. A huge blue spruce was set in the corner of the hall, decorated with beautiful glass balls and other assorted ornaments. Five large upholstered chairs were gathered about the hearth and so was a tray with the promised cider and a small pot of hot cocoa with marshmallows. Also on the tray was an assortment of cookies and iced gingerbread cakes.

Marietta and Sevvy were settled upon Snape's knee, happily drinking a cup of cocoa with plenty of milk and marshmallows. She then chattered to him and Dumbledore, telling them the story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

"She slept almost the whole way here," Sandy explained. "That's why she's so wide awake now." She smothered a yawn behind her hand. "I don't know how we're going to get her to go to sleep tonight."

Severus winked at her. "I have an idea that might work." He turned to his niece, who was pretending to feed Sevvy bits of chocolate cookie. "Marietta, will you promise to go to sleep if I tell you a bedtime story?"

"But I slept lots and lots on the way over here," the little girl whined. "I'm not tired, Uncle Sev."

"Not even a little?"

"No," she shook her head firmly.

Sandy shot him a see-what-I-mean look.

Snape was unfazed by the child's answer. He knew the combination of the hot cocoa and the warmth of the fire was bound to make the girl sleepy eventually. "Very well. You just sit here and play with Sevvy and drink your cocoa while I talk with your mom."

"Okay," Marietta agreed, munching on a cookie and sipping her cocoa.

Arista was telling Paul and Dumbledore about her adventures in Washington state this past summer, helping the bronze dragons track down some dragonslaying wizards that had slaughtered five of the magnificent lizards. (see Arista Snape and the Bronze Dragons)

Sandy asked Professor Snape about his students and he in turn told her about the trials and tribulations of teaching young wizards. "Some of them behave worse than Marietta, and they don't have the excuse of being four years old," he sighed, ruffling his niece's hair.

She leaned back against him, cradled snugly in his arm, her eyes blinking sleepily. Sandy gently took the empty cup from her hand and set it on the tray. "Looks like somebody's ready for bed," she murmured.

"I'd say so," Snape nodded.

His niece yawned. "Don' wanna go to bed," she said stubbornly. "You promised me a story first."

"So I did. You'll have one, miss, provided you agree to go to bed right afterwards," he countered.

"I promise," she agreed, then snuggled into his shoulder.

Severus rose, holding the child in his arms, and said to Sandy, "Come, I'll show you where your room is."

Sandy followed swiftly, bidding Dumbledore and Arista good night, barely able to keep her eyes open.

Severus would have given the sleepy Marietta to her mother to get undressed and tucked into bed, but the four-year-old grew cranky and insisted he help her instead.

Snape raised an eyebrow at that, and Sandy sighed and asked, "D'you mind, Sev? She's normally not like this."

"She's overtired, I think," he said, kneeling to tug off the girl's boots.

It took a little over five minutes to get the child in a pair of pajamas and tucked into the little bed against the wall, opposite her parents' large one. A tiny night lamp sparkled on a table next to the bed, for Snape had informed the house elves of Marietta's fear of the dark.

"Can I have a story now, Uncle Sev? I still remember the Frog Prince." She yawned again, Sevvy tucked under her arm.

He smiled, for that was the first bedtime story he'd ever told her, last Fourth of July. "Do you really? Well, have you ever heard the story of Sleeping Beauty?"

"No, but I know about Cinderella."

"This story is about a princess too, a beautiful girl named Aurora . . ."

He had gotten about halfway through the story before Marietta's eyes closed and she fell asleep. He bent and kissed her on the forehead. "Sweet dreams, minx."

Then he straightened and looked at Sandy, who was nearly asleep on her feet. "Good night, Sandy."

"Night, Sev. Thank you for that," she jerked her head at her child. "I'm so beat I couldn't string two sentences together."

"That's what I'm here for," he answered, embarrassed. "Don't worry about waking up early tomorrow. Breakfast is served at nine thirty or ten on the holidays." Then he departed the room and returned to the hall.

By then Arista had finished her tale of the bronze dragons and was also yawning sleepily. She rose without being told, bid her uncle and Dumbledore good night, hugged her father, and then went off to bed.

The three men remained awake a bit longer, but eventually they too sought their beds and slept dreamlessly until the dawn, which brought a coating of frost from the Highlands as well as an unexpected missive from Paul's mother, requesting he come home immediately, his father was gravely ill.

A/N: This story takes place in Arista's fifth year, just after the incident in Potions Prodigy. Hope you all enjoy it!