A/N: Thank you to all for reading and especially to those for reviewing so far! I really do appreciate it! I'm hoping you'll like this chapter... the mystery is really beginning. Please review and let me know what you think!
With a loud pop
, Minerva McGonagall appeared on the outer edge of Hogsmeade at approximately nine o’clock on the morning of August 5th. She was early for her appointment with Snape and could have Apparated closer to the school, but she needed the extra time and distance to gather her wits. She walked slowly down High Street toward the school gates. It was astounding to see the changes the village had undergone in the four short days since Voldemort’s takeover of the Ministry.
On a normal summer day, the streets would be crowded with wizards, witches, and a number of magical beings who were out enjoying the freedom of an all-magic community. There would be a comfortable buzz of talking and laughter circulating throughout the town. On a sunny day, as it was today, shopkeepers would prop open their doors to call out friendly hellos to the passerby on the street. Instead, Minerva was the sole person making her way down High Street. Shop doors were closed, some even boarded shut. The sun shone brightly on the cobblestones, but instead of cheering her it only provided an eerie sense of a coming apocalypse.
On the previous Saturday, Minerva had been alone in her cottage, brooding over memories and contemplating current happenings. She had been invited to the Weasley wedding, but she had been in no mood to attend. She knew that it was most likely an invitation of courtesy due to her association with the family through Hogwarts and the Order of the Phoenix. She had been spared an awkward conversation with Molly about declining the invitation thanks to Kingsley; he had made a point that he didn’t want the entire Order in one place and felt that it was better if she avoided the Burrow. Kingsley was attempting to outwardly reduce her responsibilities to the Order; he felt that her position at Hogwarts would be threatened otherwise. Minerva agreed with him on these counts and the two of them had decided it would be for the benefit of all if she did anything necessary to keep her post as Transfiguration teacher. They had even discussed her coming meeting with Snape, and she hoped it went according to their plans. Unlike the majority of the Order, she had yet to be interrogated by any Death Eaters regarding her position in the War. As grateful as she was to be spared a visit from someone like Bellatrix Lestrange, she was also slightly fearful of an interview with Severus Snape. It was clear now that he was no better than the foul woman.
Upon reaching the Hogwarts gates, Minerva was surprised to see one of the school carriages awaiting her; she didn’t think that Snape had that much class. She climbed aboard and stared at the thestrals leading the way to the castle ahead. Never before had she dreaded arriving at the oak front doors as much as she did in this moment. Upon reaching the castle she found a nervous Filch awaiting her arrival.
“Good morning, Professor,” he said with a deep nod.
“Good morning, Mr. Filch.” They walked in silence up the marble staircase. Minerva fleetingly wondered what Filch thought of the current headmaster, but realized that his opinions wouldn’t matter much. As much as he would approve of punishing students who caused him torment over the years, she knew that his loyalty was to the school. Hogwarts was the only place in the wizarding world that had accepted Filch, and she knew that his goal was to remain there as long as possible. The pair ended their silent walk when they approached the stone gargoyle guarding the entrance to the headmaster’s office.
“The password is emerald
,” Filch stated. At his words, the gargoyle jumped to the side, revealing the moving stone staircase behind. Minerva fought the temptation to roll her eyes; no doubt the password was in reference to Snape’s house colors. Instead, she simply gave him polite thanks and stepped onto the rising stairs. At the top, she gave the heavy wooden door a stern glare before knocking.
“Enter,” she heard Snape call from within. She pushed open the door and glanced quickly around the office before looking at the man seated behind the desk. Surprisingly, Snape had not brought his usual gloom to the airy, circular room. Much of Dumbledore’s instruments were sitting in the exact locations they had been when Minerva was last here. The portraits of past headmasters and headmistresses were sleeping in their frames, including the largest one behind Snape’s black, greasy head. For a moment, she paused in the doorway and simply stared at him, desperately trying to read his thoughts. However, she knew her efforts were futile; he was the greatest Occlumens in the country, after all.
“Good morning, Professor,” she said in the iciest tone she cold gather while taking a seat in the chair before his desk.
“Good morning,” he replied. His mouth twitched for a moment, but his eyes remained as expressionless as ever. “Did you have an enjoyable summer?” Minerva narrowed her eyes and set her mouth into a firm, thin line. She could easily see through his false manners.
“Severus,” she began, using his first name in an effort to demean him, “I have a busy day before me and do not have time for your mocking pleasantries.” This statement was in fact false; Minerva had no other plans for the day. She neither worried nor cared if he knew the truth. “We both know that you are fully aware of how enjoyable my summer was. I believe I am here to discuss my job as Transfiguration teacher?” One of his dark eyebrows rose slightly, but the rest of his face was as blank as ever. He regarded her silently for a moment, his coal black eyes boring into her fierce grey ones.
“Correct,” he finally spoke. “I must ask, would you be willing to continue teaching here?" Again, there was a pause in the conversation. Minerva felt that there was an undercurrent of a threat in his question.
“I’m not leaving Hogwarts.” Her voice was like steel; she would not allow him to think he could intimidate her. Inside her robes, she clenched her fingers around her wand, readying herself for any sudden attack.
“Very well then.” He nodded once and looked at his hands, pressing his fingertips together. The gesture reminded her suddenly of Dumbledore, and the reality of the situation caused a wave of fury to surge through her. “You should know, however, that changes will be made to the school.”
“Is that so?” she asked curtly. He didn’t answer her; instead he merely raised his gaze to meet hers. “What changes are we talking about?”
“I think we will be stricter than in previous years. I always felt that Dumbledore was too – “
“How dare you speak his name!” Minerva leapt to her feet, pulling out her wand and pointing it at Snape’s head. Her heart pounded in her chest; this was not part of her and Kingsley’s plan. A strange glint appeared in Snape’s eyes, and it wasn’t hard for her to imagine what his face had looked like on the night of Dumbledore’s death.
“Sit down, Minerva.” There was no question of the threat in his voice now.
“I won’t take orders from you, Severus,” she said while remaining standing. At this statement, fury completely overtook his features, and Minerva couldn’t recall ever seeing him like this before.
“Unfortunately, as long as I am headmaster you will have no choice but to take orders from me.” He rose to his feet as well, though he didn’t pull out his wand.
“And if I don’t? Will you kill me too, Severus?” she asked quietly, lowering her wand to her side. He stared into her eyes for a long moment and his anger receded from his features just as quickly as it had appeared. She tried desperately to read the expression on his face before he returned to his usual impassive, blank state.
“You should know that there are other powers working behind Hogwarts now.” Snape spoke softly and slowly, carefully enunciating each word. “Even if I choose not to act, no doubt someone else will.”
“So you weren't the one who murdered Charity Burbage?” Minerva knew she was pushing her luck, but Snape’s changing moods were putting her off guard.
“I have no idea what happened to Charity Burbage. If she had any sense at all she would have fled the country.” He glanced at the clock. “I believe we’re finished here. I will see you on September the first.” He sat back into his chair and looked at her steadily.
“September the first it is. Good day, Severus.”
Minerva turned on her heel and left the office, making sure to slam the door on her way out. She hurried through the castle to the entrance hall, not wanting to see Filch or anyone else who might be lurking there. The meeting left her with mixed emotions. Snape’s cold manner infuriated her and made her feel below his standards, yet she couldn’t help but recall his statement about powers working behind Hogwarts. She knew that Voldemort was behind Snape’s appointment to headmaster, but Snape made it seem as if his master would be much more tied to the school than she had originally anticipated. And had her agitated state deceived her, or had there really been a tone in Snape’s voice that was begging her to heed his warning? The end of their conversation almost indicated a comradery existed between them, but Minerva knew not to believe otherwise.
As she walked back down High Street, her mind was preoccupied with the conversation that had just occurred. She didn’t pay any attention to the few other people in the village, hurrying along with their shoulders hunched and hoods up.
She needed to calm her mind, to bring reason to the day’s confusion. The thought of returning to her empty cottage filled her with dread- she knew she would only worry and fret all day. She decided that a visit with a friend was just what she needed; so when she disappeared into thin air she reappeared in the lane outside of her friend Augusta’s manor.
Minerva smiled to herself as she walked toward her friend’s house. In the country there was no sign of a bleak future, trees were as green as ever and flowers seemed to bloom before her feet. The sun shone brightly on land that seemed unchanged from the beginning of the world, and it was impossible to avoid being caught up in the day. She was in much better spirits by the time she knocked the brass knob against the door. While she waited for it to open she turned and surveyed the grassy land before her. Minerva had always felt deep comfort in this place, at least since Augusta’s marriage many years ago. Once upon a time she had frequented the manor almost daily, it had even briefly been her own home once. Now, though, she couldn’t recall the last time she had called on her friend. Events had fallen into place, circumstances had changed, and so had the two old friends. Time had changed the way they viewed the world and viewed each other, and sometimes it simply hurt too much to look at the pain their eyes reflected.
“It’s about time you’ve come to visit.” Minerva turned to look at Augusta, standing in the open doorway with her eyebrow raised in a youthful way that age and years could never alter. Her mouth twitched and the brow fell. “I’ve been waiting all summer.”
Minerva understood the meaning in her words but wasn’t yet ready to acknowledge it.
“I have a home as well, Augusta. The door swings both ways.” Minerva smiled finally, and Augusta waved her hands as if shooing a fly.
“Hurry in, then, so I can put the tea on.” Augusta ushered Minerva into the parlor then rushed off to the kitchen. The house-elf had died years ago, and Augusta had never felt the need to replace her. After a few minutes she returned with the steaming pot. “I’m alone today,” she said, explaining the lone pair of teacups on the tray. “My brother took the boy into London for his school things.” Minerva nodded, and Augusta avoided her gaze.
“I was at the school this morning.” Augusta gasped at her friend’s news.
“With that bat, you mean?”
“Yes. It seems I am still employed.” Minerva smiled at the glint in Augusta’s eyes.
“Thank goodness! Merlin knows what will happen at that school this year. Promise me you’ll have a go at him, then?”
“Perhaps…but it was odd. I wasn’t sure what to make of him.” Minerva then recounted her morning’s meeting to Augusta, who listened attentively and nodded and widened her eyes in all of the right places. “I left confused; I didn’t understand his motives,” she finished.
“All you need to understand is that he’s a liar and skilled at manipulating people.”
“You weren’t there, Augusta. You didn’t see him; you didn’t hear him. He was different than I’ve ever seen him before.” Minerva couldn’t bring herself to say what she truly felt: that something deep inside of her was reacting to something in Severus’ words, that she neither could place nor understand it.
“I wasn’t there when he killed Dumbledore but that doesn’t change what happened,” Augusta stated sharply. “I don’t need you lying cold at the bottom of the Astronomy Tower, too. I won’t have you taken for a fool.” For a long moment, neither woman spoke, both lost deep in their own thoughts and memories. Suddenly, the sound of the slamming front door could be heard and voices drifted in from the hall.
“That’ll be the boys,” Augusta said.
“I’ll best be going. I don’t want to trouble you.” Minerva placed her teacup back on the tray and rose to her feet. Augusta opened her mouth to protest, but thought better of it. Instead, she rose to her feet to walk Minerva to the door.
“Oh! Before you leave, I have something for you.” With a flick of her wand, a small, wooden box flew through the air and into her hands. She offered it to Minerva. “I was going through some old things and thought you would like this. I’ve really no need for it anymore.” Minerva moved to open the box but Augusta stopped her. “Wait until you’re home,” she explained. Minerva smiled and accepted the gift, bade her friend good-bye, then stepped out of the house to Apparate back home.
Once inside, she sat down and opened the box in her lap. Inside was a jumbled collection of belongings: a tied bunch of letters, a stack of photographs, assorted ticket stubs, maps, and coins. Minerva closed her eyes. There was no doubt where these came from.
He had watched her disappear, Apparating from the corner of the street. She was tall and slim, and even at her older age she radiated some kind of beauty. He had been sitting in the corner window seat of the pub for the better part of the morning, passing time and thinking to himself. Earlier, he had watched her walk down the street to the school with a purposeful and confidant gait, had watched her return an hour later with a slower step. She hadn’t noticed his gaze- she seemed to hardly notice anything in the street around her, and besides, his spot was well concealed. He puzzled over the woman, wondering who she was and what her business was. He had his own appointment at the school later in the day and couldn’t imagine what Severus Snape would want with a woman like her. She seemed too elegant to be mixed up in the line of business he was in, too refined to be a teacher up at the castle. He ordered another firewhiskey and brooded over her while he waited for the afternoon to come, wondering about the woman and why he couldn’t forget her.