Disclaimer: The setting of this story and all of its main characters
belong to their inventor J.K. Rowling; I have no claim on them in any
way whatsoever. However, the characters of Sorensen Jones, Aethelric Graven
and Miles Walsingham (mentioned only: you’ll hear more of this one later)
are my own inventions, as are the Foundation Stone, the Porticus Spell,
Merlin’s Breath and the system of offices and investitures (appearing
in later chapters).
This story was initially a writing exercise intended to develop two different
skills: the simultaneous development of two plots (an action plot and
an emotional plot); and the technique of entering into a character’s thoughts
by staying out of his or her head, as practiced, and eloquently argued
for, by Mary Gentle. You be the judge of how well it succeeded…
Many thanks to Jedi Boadicea, for beta-reading and encouraging comments,
and also to KannaOphelia of Diversion Tactics and elsewhere, for getting
me into this lark in the first place. Fanfic addiction is a catching disease…
The world beyond the window was still, snow-muffled, edged with light
from the last cold crescent of a waning moon. The gallery behind him was
empty, of students, teachers, ghosts—even the paintings were quiet in
their frames. Only shadows drifted against the walls, flickering as the
torches guttered and crackled quietly to themselves. He turned his back
on the window sharply, saw his own shadow flit away from him, sidle close,
crouch and tremble and stretch out into another shape—another human shape—a
tall, thin shape in a close-wrapped cloak, with long hair floating about
And the shadow stepped into the light and became a man.
‘I didn’t think you’d ever have the gall to come back here.’
Fingers white as naked bone lifted to thin lips. He heard a quick puff
of breath; then the hands dropped, folded themselves back into wide sleeves,
and the mouth curved into a bland smile.
‘How did you get into the castle?’
‘Oh…’ Torchlight danced over one high cheekbone as the intruder glanced
over his shoulder. ‘I used a back door—’
‘There are no back doors at Hogwarts.’ —arts—the walls
whispered back to him, the sharp edge in his voice blunted by stone.
‘Actually, there are several. You just never found out about them…’
The husky voice trailed off; pale eyes watched, unblinking, as Snape
stalked out of the shadows.
‘Why are you here, Lupin?’
Lupin did not turn to keep Snape in sight as he brushed past one grey-cloaked
shoulder; but as Snape paced behind him, his back straightened from its
usual stoop, and his head lifted. ‘I need to speak with Professor Dumbledore,’
he said to the length of the gallery.
Snape showed his teeth in a smile. ‘What a pity. He’s not here.’ He came
to a halt by Lupin’s shoulder, and stood with arms folded, watching, as
a small intent frown etched lines between the other wizard’s brows.
‘So that’s what’s different,’ Lupin murmured after a moment. His shoulders
hunched again as he dug his hands into the pockets of his robes. ‘In that
case,’ he said slowly, ‘I need to speak with Professor McGonagall.’
‘Do you.’ One step, and Snape was close enough to feel the winter chill
that had seeped into Lupin’s snow-dampened robes and skin. ‘Leave, Lupin,’
he said, and let the words echo with the power a master could command
within the fabric of the school. ‘Now.’
But Lupin did not move. ‘It’s important, Severus,’ he said, and waited.
For a moment Snape glared at him, narrow-eyed; then he spun on his heel
and stalked away. The hems of his robes whipped savagely about his calves.
Halfway along the gallery he stopped. Waited. Turned back with exaggerated
patience to the man who stood huddled in his meticulously darned cloak
precisely where Snape had left him.
Lupin looked at him for a long moment before he moved. ‘The command had
no power,’ he said at last as he came down the gallery, ‘because the school
is aware that I am acting in its interest.’
‘I know.’ Snape’s teeth snapped shut on the words. The frown deepened
on Lupin’s face.
‘You should know more than that, given the Office you hold. Severus—’
Heat flared suddenly over Snape’s cheekbones; before Lupin could come
up beside him, he wheeled about and walked away, out of the gallery, toward
Gryffindor Tower. Lupin followed him silently all the way to Minerva McGonagall’s
‘Really, Professor Snape—’ the title snapped out sharp as a slap in the
face ‘—what could possibly be important enough to warrant disturbing me
at this hour?’ The tall witch folded her arms across the belt of her dressing-gown
and regarded him impatiently. The light from her wand-tip made her face
a pallid mask.
‘The Headmaster’s tame werewolf has turned up, Professor,’ Snape said
loudly. ‘He claims—’
‘Remus Lupin?’ McGonagall lifted her wand until the light touched the
tall figure waiting behind Snape’s shoulder. ‘Whatever’s the matter?’
Lupin looked up, his eyes half-lidded, shadowy in the wand’s glow. ‘You
might not know—Professor Dumbledore asked me to keep watch on the outcast
ones for him—the hags, the vampires, ghouls, werewolves, all the ones
who go easily to the Dark Lord—’
‘Yes, he told me that,’ said McGonagall. Snape looked at her sharply
from under his brows. His fingers drummed against his elbow.
‘Well—not long ago—three days, maybe four?—a call passed among them:
Come to the Castle. They think I’m one of them, so it came to
me too… I don’t know what they plan, but I think you’ll find yourselves
under attack by Twelfth Night.’
The light dipped, then flared and glowed steady again as McGonagall’s
fingers tightened around her wand. ‘I see,’ was all she said; but her
mouth was grim. ‘Well. Thank you for the warning—’
‘Professor—’ The rough voice stumbled and broke on the word; Snape snorted.
After a moment, Lupin took a breath and spoke again. ‘How long has the
Headmaster been away from the school?’
McGonagall huffed a sigh, lifted a hand and pulled her dressing-gown
closer about her throat. ‘A little over a month. Though he informed me
he would only be gone for ten days…’
Lupin nodded. ‘Have the Headmaster’s Wards been deteriorating steadily
over that time?’
McGonagall shook her head. ‘Most of it has only happened in the last
‘…Ah,’ said Lupin, and McGonagall’s hand froze with the fingers still
twisted in cloth.
Eventually she said, ‘Are they just taking advantage of the situation,
or did they create it?’
Lupin shrugged. ‘I don’t know. It could be coincidence. But—’
The thin shoulders slumped again as Lupin turned away from the light.
‘Well, good luck, Professor McGonagall—Severus—’
‘Where are you going?’ The tart inquiry halted Lupin mid-step. Snape
swung around and glared at McGonagall, but she ignored him.
Lupin shrugged again. ‘If I join the outcasts now, I might be able to
learn what their plans are—and how they knew to attack the school at such
‘Tonight? Don’t be ridiculous. You look exhausted. Find yourself an empty
room and get some sleep! You can leave in the morning, if you must,’ McGonagall
added over her shoulder as she turned back into her room.
‘Thank you, Professor—’ Lupin turned away with a smile as McGonagall’s
door swung shut behind her. Snape glared at him narrow-eyed, and hunched
himself deeper into his robes.
‘Do you really believe that you can worm your way back into Professor
Dumbledore’s good graces with this display of concern? I will see you
off the grounds in the morning,’ he said curtly, and sneered as Lupin
turned to him, still smiling.
‘As you please,’ he said. ‘Good night, Severus.’ And he padded away,
wolf-silent, into the half-lit halls.