Christmas Cheating Characters: Remus, Severus, Cymbeline, Lysander, and Gaia Summary: The Lupin-Snape children are on a reconnaissance mission under the Christmas tree. Status: complete
It wasn't often the Lupin-Snape children were left unsupervised, especially after Cymbeline's attempt to run away from home. But Nanny Stella had gone downstairs to talk to Lurch about not serving almond tea again because the last time, Cymbeline had convinced Lysander the almond taste came from cyanide. Meanwhile, Papa was in his workroom, and Daddy was in his study, which meant Cymbeline could finally sneak downstairs to the parlor and get her hands on the presents beneath the Christmas tree.
She put her lessons aside and went to the doorway of the nursery, and she peeked into the corridor to make certain no one was coming. Glancing over her shoulder at Lysander, she announced, "I'm going to find out what I got for Christmas."
Lysander's dark eyes widened, and he looked at his older sister with a troubled expression. "Mine, you get twubble," he said, scuffing his shoes on the nursery carpet under his chair, a habit he had when agitated. "Papa say no peek!"
"I know," she replied, lifting her chin in a gesture reminiscent of their papa. "But he won't find out unless you tell." She fixed him with a warning glare that promised all sorts of dire retribution if he tattled.
Biting his lip, Lysander worried. He knew it wasn't right to disobey Papa, but he adored Cymbeline, and he didn't want to make her angry - especially not when she was looking down her nose at him like Papa did, making him squirm in his seat as though he were the one contemplating being naughty. Behind him, Gaia was burbling in the cradle, and so with a heartfelt sigh, he rose to his feet.
"Oh, fine," he said, in unconscious imitation of Cymbeline's long-suffering tone. "But I take Gai-ya too. She cwy if she wonely."
He crossed to the cradle, standing beside it and looking down at Gaia, who beamed up at him with her toothless smile. Lysander had grown rather tall in the last few months, making him really feel like a big brother to "his" baby. Gaia was a chubby little thing, but Lysander managed to lift her out of the cradle, clutching her close as she wriggled in his arms.
"Shhh... it okay," he told her, carrying her to the levitating pram. Daddy had taken off the wheels from the smallest of the prams Cymbeline and Lysander had once used and charmed it to float, so that Lysander could easily push Gaia around on their walks. Fortunately, this meant that it could also go down the stairs with no difficulty.
After placing Gaia inside and arranging her to his satisfaction - not easy, as she would keep kicking the blanket off - Lysander pushed the pram over to the door. "Okay, we go," he said to Cymbeline. "If you weally want to."
Cymbeline released a grumbling sigh at having two extra tag-alongs on her adventure; if Lysander didn't bump into something, then Gaia would start to cry, and the noise would bring somebody running, which meant her clever planning would be all for naught. But she knew better than to try to dissuade Lysander; he could be stubborn too, and the longer they argued, the less time they would have for scoping out the presents.
"I do!" she snapped. "Come on. Nanny Stella will be back soon."
With that, she marched out of the nursery and to the top of the stairs. Once there, she stopped to peer through the railing and make certain no one was coming up the steps, but the coast was clear. Raising one finger to her lips, she glared a warning at Lysander to be quiet, and then she began to sneak down the stairs, going slowly and carefully to avoid making noise.
Lysander followed obediently. He still had misgivings about what they were doing, but he couldn't let Cymbeline go without him. She might need him, after all, and maybe if they got caught, he could help cover for her so that she didn't lose all her presents. That would be just too awful to think about!
The pram floated lightly down the stairs, but Lysander gave a sigh of relief when they finally reached the bottom. He'd never pushed it down without an adult around before, and he was very glad that something awful hadn't happened. Gaia let out a loud squeal; she loved being in the pram, and of course, she didn't know anything about keeping quiet.
"Sowwy!" he whispered, giving Cymbeline a panicked look. She was a lot more accepting of Gaia than she used to be, but Lysander believed her when she told him that one day she just might return Gaia to the trolls under the bridge. That would make Lysander very sad indeed.
"You shouldn't have brought her!" Cymbeline managed to get across the full measure of her vitriol even in a whisper, and she glared at Gaia, even though she knew it wouldn't do any good.
Fortunately, it didn't seem that Gaia's shrieking had alerted any of the grown-ups, and after a few moments of watching and listening for approaching footsteps, she breathed a sigh of relief. She tip-toed over to the entrance of the parlor and peered in just to make certain no one was in there, and she waved to Lysander when the room proved to be empty.
"Hurry up!" she demanded in a hushed tone as she stepped into the parlor and made a beeline for the tree.
The tree was sparkling, although the lights were subdued since it there was bright sunlight streaming in through the windows. It was still pretty, though, and Lysander smiled happily. Daddy and Papa had let them help decorate, and Lysander's very favorite thing of all was the gingerbread man he'd made and hung on the highest branch he could reach by himself. It only had one eye because Winslow had eaten the other, but Lysander was still very proud of it.
Pushing the pram over, Lysander stood on his tiptoes and patted his gingerbread man affectionately before turning his attention to the shiny packages under the tree. He was learning to read, but Cymbeline was much better at it than he was. "Which ones say for Gai-ya?" he asked anxiously. "She been good girl. She get pwesents too, wight?"
Cymbeline knelt in front of the tree and began pulling out presents, ignoring those that had Papa and Daddy's names on them; she saw presents with "Gaia" written on the label, but she looked at Lysander and shook her head. "No presents. I guess troll babies don't get presents," she said. Just then, she spotted one with her name on it, and she grabbed it gleefully.
"No pwesents?" Lysander bit his lip again, feeling distressed on Gaia's behalf. She had to have presents, or she'd cry, and Lysander simply couldn't stand it when his baby cried.
He looked down at the presents, finding the biggest one under the tree. Fortunately, it had a tag saying "Lysander" on it, and he nodded, knowing what he would do. He ran over to the desk where Daddy and Papa sometimes wrote letters, climbing up into the chair so that he could reach the top. There were quills there in a holder, and he snatched one out, then jumped down and ran back to the present. He scratched out his own name, then looked at Cymbeline.
He wanted to ask her how to spell "Gaia" correctly, but he had the feeling she might not want to do that. Looking down at the tag, he thought for a moment, then wrote "baby" in his best letters. At least he knew how to spell that all by himself, and he made a mental note to ask Daddy how to spell "Gaia" later. But everyone ought to know who "baby" was.
"There, she got pwesent, and no cwy," he said with satisfaction.
"You gave up a present?" Cymbeline stared at him, stunned by the mere thought that anyone would give up a present willingly for any reason. "That's stupid! What if that's your only present?"
Lysander thought about that, and he felt a bit sad. He did like getting presents, but he really didn't like to think about Gaia feeling left out for not getting any. It was already hard enough that she got called troll and had weezy hair and was the littlest.
Lifting his chin, Lysander shrugged, although his lower lip quivered just a little. "I big boy, I no cwy. She a baby. She my baby, so I share. Dat faiw."
Cymbeline sat back and regarded him somberly; it still made her a little jealous to hear him call Gaia "his baby", and that he was willing to give up a present - a really big one! - for Gaia gave her a little twinge too, especially since she wasn't sure if he would do the same for her. Grudgingly, she crawled to the other side of the tree, found a gift with Gaia's name on it, and threw it in their direction.
"That one's for her," she said.
Lysander ran to fetch the present, which had bounced to one side. He smiled with relief, glad that Gaia really hadn't been overlooked. "Good!" he said, showing Gaia the package. She burbled and blew a spit bubble, watching as he waved the bright package over her. "See, you get pwesent all you own."
Walking back to the tree, Lysander placed the little gift next to the big one, wondering if he should change the name back. It really was a big gift, and maybe that would help Cymbeline feel better, since she seemed a little sad. "Mine?" he asked softly, moving to where Cymbeline sat. "I give you pwesent, if it make you happy. I wuv you, want you happy, too!"
That made Cymbeline feel a little better, but Gaia was still a sore subject at times; she had made peace with having a little sister, but it was sometimes an uneasy peace while she came to terms with all the changes and adjustments that having another child in the family entailed. Shrugging, she crawled back over to her present and picked at the ribbon. "We all got presents," she said.
"Yes, dat good." Lysander said. He moved back to the big present and picked up the quill, scratching out "baby". He couldn't spell Cymbeline, although he was trying to learn that one, too. After a moment's thought, he wrote "mine" in the corner, then went to sit by the pram. Now that he knew they all had presents, he was content; besides, if Daddy or Papa came in, he didn't want to get in trouble.
Severus emerged from his workroom in the catacombs after a few hours of satisfying labor and went straight to Remus' study to see if Remus was at a point in his own work where he could be interrupted. Knocking on the study door, he opened it and peered inside.
"It's nearly tea time," he said. "Are you free to join the rest of us? I can arrange for chocolate biscuits as incentive."
Remus looked up from the revisions he'd been making and beamed at the sight of Severus. "I don't need the biscuits, actually," he said, rising to his feet and tossing his reading glasses down on the desktop. He crossed to his mate, wrapping his arms around Severus' waist and leaning in so that he could press his lips to the side of Severus' neck, inhaling Severus' familiar, spicy scent. "You asking is all the incentive I require. Maybe after tea, I can arrange for dessert - a private one for the two of us."
The brush of Remus' lips against his skin made Severus shiver, and he wound his arms around Remus in return, holding him close. "That sounds acceptable," he replied, a husky note in his voice. "Chocolate can still be involved, I'm sure."
"Chocolate, and anything else you might find... stimulating," Remus drawled playfully. He pulled back enough that he could look up into Severus' eyes, his own containing a glint of heat. "I'm sure we can convince the children to get through tea quickly if we offer an extra long bedtime story later. Shall we go collect our little cherubs and get started?"
The heat in Remus' eyes was mirrored by the gleam in Severus' own, and Severus nodded agreement. "Yes, let's," he said, stepping back and clasping Remus' hand, twining their fingers. "They should be in the nursery."
Tugging Remus' hand, he led Remus out of the study and headed for the stairs, but he paused, arrested by the sound of voices from the parlor. Glancing at Remus, he pressed his finger to his lips and sneaked closer, trying to get a look at what was going on. The parlor had been declared off-limits without adult supervision until Christmas, but he didn't put it past their "cherubs" to try to circumvent that rule.
Remus blinked, then gave a silent chuckle as he and Severus crept toward the parlor. He heard Lysander say something about being a big boy and not crying. "What in the world are they up to?" he whispered close to Severus' ear. "You don't think they'd actually open the gifts, do you?"
"The only one I trust is Gaia," Severus murmured, frowning and shaking his head. "And that is only because she is too young to understand what presents are."
"That's probably wise," Remus said, although his eyes sparkled. "Any guesses as to which future Slytherin instigated this, though? Would I end up sleeping on the sofa if I dared to suggest that she takes after her father?"
Severus gave him a Look. "I believe that has already been adequately established on a daily basis since her birth," he said tartly. "I've no doubt who is behind this. The question is whether we have arrived in time to thwart the master plan and maintain the secrecy of the presents." He peered in farther even though it meant risking being seen. "I don't see wrapping paper everywhere."
"I suspect they're crafty enough to realize that even clueless parents would notice that," Remus said. "Okay, time to put on the stern faces, right? Even though it's hard when they're being so darned clever and cute." He arranged his features into a disapproving frown, which was belied by his dancing eyes. "How's this?"
"It is a perfect illustration as to why you were Sorted into Gryffindor," Severus replied dryly. He schooled his expression into one of the forbidding frowns he frequently wore in his classroom. "How is this?"
"Wonderful... wear it later when you spank me," Remus whispered, his tone sultry. "Okay, you first, since you're better at this than I am. But I'll be right behind you. Hopefully not laughing."
"Do try not to." With that admonition, Severus swept into the room, and he fixed both Cymbeline and Lysander with a stern frown. "What is going on here?"
Cymbeline froze and stared up at him with a deer caught in headlights look, but she rallied swiftly, and she pointed to the pram. "She wanted to look at the presents!"
Lysander emitted a small "eep!" as Papa entered the room, glowering at them in the way that made Lysander want to sink into the floor. He'd known this would happen, and his eyes widened with fright. "No take pwesents away, Papa!" he said, lower lip quivering in earnest this time. "It not Gai-ya fault!"
Behind Severus, Remus bit his lip hard. It was definitely better to let Severus handle this, because Remus was ready to melt into a puddle at the cuteness of their children.
Folding his arms across his chest, Severus peered down at them, his expression not softening in the least. "I know Gaia is not at fault," he said. "She is too young to talk, much less plan a raid on the Christmas tree."
Cymbeline scowled and pushed the present in front of her as far away as she could as if to conceal the evidence after the fact. "We didn't open them!" she said, offering the only defense she could think of. That they had been caught before they could open anything was something she would neglect to mention and hope it wouldn't be held against them.
"There is that," Remus said in as neutral a voice as he could manage. The thought of Cymbeline trying to pull the wool over Severus' eyes was hysterically funny.
"We just make sure Gai-ya got pwesents," Lysander said in a small voice, looking up at Severus with an unconscious imitation of Remus' wide-eyed gaze. "Pwease, Papa."
The sight of Lysander trying to pull the wolf-eyes on him just like his Daddy amused Severus, although he was careful not to let it show. If Cymbeline was his child, there was no doubt that Lysander was all Remus'.
"We told you both that the parlor was off-limits unless you were with us or Nanny Stella," he said sternly. "It doesn't matter whether you opened presents or not. You broke the rule, and I am very disappointed in you both."
Lysander's lip quivered again, tears welling up in his dark eyes. But he was a big boy, and he wouldn't cry. Jumping to his feet, he ran up to throw his arms around Severus' legs. "No take Mine's pwesents away!" he begged. "She be unhappy an' that make me unhappy!"
Cymbeline stood and resisted the urge to scuff her toe on the rug; she would rather have a spanking than hear Papa say he was disappointed, and she wanted to squirm under his stern gaze. More than that, she wanted to do something that would make him not disappointed, and so she drew in a deep breath.
"You can take my presents," she said with the air of one facing a firing squad. "It was my idea, not his."
Remus couldn't stay silent, torn between wanting to collapse in giggles at the cuteness or melt at how sweet Cymbeline was being. "Er... I don't know that we need to take away presents, do we, Severus?" he asked, widening his eyes. "Perhaps some other way of showing them they shouldn't disobey?"
Leaning over, Severus picked up Lysander and rubbed his back soothingly, surprised but pleased by Cymbeline's willing sacrifice; despite her machinations, she was willing to do the right thing in the end, and he was glad they had instilled a sense of right and wrong to serve as her moral compass even when she was hatching schemes.
"No, we will not take anyone's presents," he said, amused anew at Cymbeline's palpable relief at that statement. "But there will be some form of punishment for breaking the rule." He glanced at Remus, wondering how long it would be before Remus finally cracked and had to laugh. "Do you have any suggestions?"
Remus was quivering with the effort of holding back the chuckle that wanted to escape. It wasn't helping that Severus was so damned cute when he was holding Lysander and comforting him. "Ummm... no cake with tea?" he said, lips twitching. "No bedtime story?"
"No bedtime story, I think," Severus said, nodding his approval of the idea.
Cymbeline drooped visibly at that; they were due to read the Grinch story that night, which was her favorite, but she supposed delaying her favorite Christmas story was far better than having all her presents taken away.
"We sowwy!" Lysander sniffled, clinging to Severus' neck with all his strength. He was relieved about the presents, although not having a story definitely put a damper on things. "We be good, Papa! No touch pwesents no more!" He lifted his head to look at Cymbeline appealingly. "No more, wight, Mine?"
"No more touching the presents," Cymbeline agreed, casting one last longing look at the brightly wrapped presents beneath the tree. It would be difficult to resist the temptation, but waiting was infinitely preferable to getting into trouble again. Next time, Papa might not be so lenient, and she wasn't willing to test his limits when presents were on the line.
"Good." Severus patted Lysander's back and handed him over to Remus for more reassuring cuddling, and then he moved to stand before Cymbeline and rested one hand on her shoulder. "It was very good of you to take responsibility instead of placing blame on Lysander or Gaia."
Awash in relief, Cymbeline flung her arms around his waist. "You're not disappointed anymore?" she asked hopefully.
"I'm displeased you disobeyed us," he said, reaching down to embrace her in return. "But I'm no longer disappointed in you." He shot Remus a warning glare, daring him to say one word about soppiness or sweetness.
Holding Lysander close, Remus swallowed hard, catching Severus' glare. He didn't have to say what he was thinking; it was there in his eyes, and a Legilimens like Severus could hardly miss it. Severus and Cymbeline really were sweet together, and Remus finally relaxed his tenuous control and laughed softly. "You were very good to admit what happened and tell the truth," Remus said to his daughter, reaching out to touch her silken hair gently.
In the pram, Gaia burbled, flailing her chubby arms and legs. "I think someone else wants attention, too - although no doubt because she's given us a rather smelly present of her own," Remus said, smiling ruefully and wrinkling his nose. "Come on, Lysander, let's go change her before tea. Do you want to have Lurch bring it up to the nursery, Severus?"
"Yes, I believe so." Severus nodded, satisfied by that idea. He turned his attention back to Cymbeline, who had released her hold and stepped back now that she was reassured the threat of parental disapproval had passed, and he held out his hand, which she took. "We shall inform Lurch and join you shortly." He looked at Remus again, one eyebrow raised. "And after tea, perhaps we should set a couple of large nutcrackers on either side of the parlor door to stand on guard duty. There are some useful charms that could be employed."
"That sounds like a good plan," Remus said, his lips twitching again. "Winslow learned to stay away from the gingerbread men, after all, and our children are much smarter than a Criffler."
"Winso smart," Lysander said, nodding solemnly.
"That he is," Remus agreed, setting Lysander down and pointing toward the pram. He turned to look at Severus. "And after we charm the nutcrackers, I think a parental conference is in order. One involving our earlier conversation."
Severus relaxed his stern features then, and a glimmer of heat appeared in his eyes. "Yes. We do have much to confer about, and I am most eager to resume that particular conversation."
Lysander began pushing the pram toward the stairs. Remus lingered for another moment, enjoying the gleam in Severus' eyes. His own darkened in response. "As am I." He licked his lips, and gave Severus a playful wink. "Have Lurch add a pot of melted chocolate to the tea tray; we'll need it for later."
With that, he turned toward the stairs as well, putting a deliberate sway in his hips, just to tease his mate with thoughts of what was to come later.
Severus watched until Remus was out of sight, and then he led Cymbeline to the kitchen to find Lurch, occupied with thoughts about what was to come; he had no doubt what - and who - it would be.