The Sugar Quill
Author: Hecate (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: A Game of Chess  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Disclaimer: Hogwarts, its world, its faculty and students are all the creations of J. K. Rowling. Readers who would like to know more about Viviane Chance should investigate Juliane's stories on Sugar Quill. Fidelis belongs to the lovely Catherine Cook. Letitia Martin, Dean of Shrewsbury College, Oxford, contributed one line (my thanks to Dorothy L. Sayers). The title, some images, and a few scattered direct quotes are from T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land, a poem in which elements of a rich past look forward to an age of trouble and uncertainty.

A/N: "A Game of Chess" is a companion piece to Words Beguile Him and assumes knowledge of the events of that story.

***

Minerva McGonagall's long strides quickly covered the ground to her office. Even though she was still trailing faint wisps of smoke from her earlier efforts with Magical Mess Removers, she was in a much better mood than she had been able to claim at the beginning of the Heads' meeting. Albus had a devastating talent for pinpointing one's weaknesses . . . and one's desires.

I haven't beaten the man at chess in months, Minerva mused, twitching her nose. Far too long, that.

Upon reaching her office, she thought better of summoning one of the school owls. Crossing to the fireplace, she reached into one of the silver boxes decorating the mantel and drew out a dash of iridescent powder. Throwing it into the fire, she called out "Molly, are you home, dear?"

A moment later, Arthur Weasley's voice echoed back through the grate. "Minerva, is that you? Molly's got her hands full at the moment; she's got the kids setting up dinner in the parlor - we've outgrown the kitchen again this holiday."

"Hello, Arthur. Yes, it's me." She hesitated a moment. "Are the children out of earshot?" Minerva asked.

"For the moment, but you'd better make it quick. Are you all right? Nothing's . . . happened, has it?"

Minerva chuckled. "No, sorry to panic you, Arthur. We are a bit harried - end of term and all -- but there's nothing dangerous afoot. Still, it would lighten my load to have Potter out of Gryffindor Tower for the holiday. Albus is quite certain that he'll be safe with you and Molly, although from the sound of it," Minerva hesitated, "there may be no room at the inn."

"We've always got a spot for Harry, Minerva - there's a trundle under Ron's bed. Shall I come and fetch him?" Arthur asked.

"Potter's traveled by Floo powder before, hasn't he?"

"Oh, yes, we've taken him to and from Diagon Alley several times," Arthur replied. "He's only gotten lost once, and I'm sure he won't make the same mistake again."

Minerva flinched, but given Arthur's degree of confidence, she thought better of pressing for more detail.

"In that case, Arthur, I'll just send him through the fire. It will take me a few minutes to get organized on this end, but he'll be along shortly. Thank Molly for me and tell her I'll call later in the week to reassure myself that Potter isn't being a pest."

"Will do!" said Arthur. "I'll be waiting for him."

Right, thought Minerva, drawing away from the hearth. That's one thing taken care of. Now, to find Potter. He ought to be in Gryffindor Tower, but I'll not be placing bets on that certainty any time soon. Why Albus gave him James's invisibility cloak even one day before graduation. . . . Leaving her office, she soon encountered Nearly Headless Nick and the Fat Friar drifting up the corridor.

"Ah, Sir Nicholas," said McGonagall. "Just the ghost I was looking for."

Nearly Headless Nick beamed, luminously. He loved being addressed by his title. "Good evening, Professor McGonagall. How may I be of service?" The ghost made a slight bow, paying careful attention to the angle of his neck.

"I need to speak with Potter, Sir Nicholas. Would you be so kind as to deliver a message? I shall be waiting for him in my office," McGonagall replied.

"Of course, Professor. Expect him shortly."

"My thanks, Sir Nicholas. Good evening, Friar," she said, as both ghosts disappeared through the wall.

That little task should occupy even Nick for a few minutes, thought Minerva, moving back toward her door. And if I am to win tonight's match, it would be best to start planning now. Entering her office, she closed the door carefully and walked around her desk to the massive breakfront behind it. The bookshelves on the left held her personal Transfiguration library, carefully cataloged according to her current research. A gap on the third shelf down reminded her that Sinistra had not yet returned The Unbearable Lightness of Being Transparent. On the right, natural history tomes mingled with well-worn copies of favored novels. Seeing that Persuasion was in danger of being swallowed up between The Voyage of the Beagle and volume 6 of her Audubon Folio series, she removed the slim book, tucking it into the shelf above between Orlando and The Seven Strings of the Lyre. The top shelf, reserved for her collection of Faber & Faber first editions, was in order as usual.

Removing her wand, she touched it to the lock on the breakfront's central cupboard. The doors swung wide, revealing row upon row of boxes. Some were covered in fraying velvet or silk damask, some were plain wood, others painted, one was faced in silver, one with mother of pearl, and on the top shelf was a large square box covered in tooled dragonhide. All contained sets of chessmen, and most predated the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy. If Albus really does have a fine cognac on hand, it wouldn't be fair of me to unleash this lot on him, she thought, stroking the dragonhide box fondly. But there's no harm in presenting him with an opponent he hasn't met before. She reached for a square box covered in worn calfskin and placed it on her desk.

A knock on the door interrupted her strategizing, and McGonagall turned and closed the cupboard with one swift movement. "Come in, Potter," she called. Harry opened the door and stuck his head through. "You wanted to see me, Professor?"

"Come in, Harry, and sit down. Don't stand there gawking." Somewhat sheepishly, Harry slid the room and plunked into the chair opposite her desk.

"Enjoying your holiday, Potter?" McGonagall asked. McGonagall assumed that he was, having heard from Violet that Potter had spent most of the afternoon sneaking around a neglected suite of storerooms off of the North Tower stairs. Better there than Gryffindor Tower, these days!

"Oh, it's ok, Professor. A bit quiet, maybe. . . ." Harry replied.

"Well, we mustn't have you getting bored, Potter," said McGonagall. "The Headmaster, " she continued, "told me after dinner that since he doesn't see why you shouldn't spend the holiday at the Burrow, after all. How does that sound to you?" she asked.

Harry nearly knocked over his chair. "Really, Professor? I can go? When?"

McGonagall smiled indulgently. "Go pack a bag, Potter. Be quick about it and you'll be in time for Mrs. Weasley's almond tarts."

Harry dashed for the door. "Potter!" McGonagall said sharply. "Come back here when you're ready to go and I'll send you through the Floo Network."

"Right, Professor -- see you in a few minutes!" Harry called back to her as he raced down the hall.

Children are so predictable, McGonagall thought, resting her chin on the palm of one hand. Still, I wonder what he's been up to since the end of exams? A sulphurous odor hit her nose as a faint wisp of smoke rose from her sleeve, and she fingered the singed edge of her robes. I hope the house-elves can salvage this, she thought. Rising from her chair, she headed for the door to the left of the breakfront.

Beyond the paneled door, McGonagall's rooms were a bit more comfortable than a visitor to her more austere office would have expect. A bright fire lit the sitting room, which featured a seven-foot long leather couch to one side opposite a small table with two upholstered armchairs. The table held a chessboard with a game in progress and a pile of parchment covered one of the seats. Mafalda Hopkirk still hadn't sent her next move, but Minerva supposed that with the Weasley twins off on holiday, the Improper Use of Magic office was probably working overtime.

In the bedchamber beyond, McGonagall pulled a fresh set of emerald green robes from the wardrobe and deposited the still smoking ones she'd been wearing in the hamper, being careful to cast a Fire-suppressing charm on them first. Turning to a small mirror in the wardrobe door, she spied a wiry lock of hair that had pulled itself free of her coil as she pulled the clean robes on over her head. Curling, it waved about, exulting in its unaccustomed liberty.

It is all well and good for Albus to talk of letting down one's hair, she thought. As if he's seen me with my hair down since 1939. I hope none of the stories winding their way up his staircase have featured that little detail! Under the firelight, under the brush, her hair spread out in fiery points. Picking up her wand from the bureau, she touched it to the top of her head. "Teneo!" she said, and her hair calmed itself into its customarily smooth appearance. She wound the twisted strand around itself half a dozen times and tucked an extra pin into the black coil for good measure. I'm not about to meet Albus for chess looking as if I've come undone.

Pins firmly in place, Minerva returned to the sitting room to check her supply of Floo powder. It wouldn't do to have Potter cooling his heels in her office while she hunted up enough to send him all the way to Ottery St. Catchpole. Noting with a self-satisfied smile that the ivory jar on the mantel was, as always, full, she sat down on the couch. Leaning over the coffee table, she said "Cup of tea, please." A moment later, a steaming cup of tea appeared in front of her. Relaxing into the cushions, she retrieved her chess journal from the floor and began to read.

Only a few minutes passed before she heard Potter's rapid knock on the outer door. McGonagall marked her place at the Philidor countergambit, put down her cup, and taking up the ivory vial of Floo powder, she let Potter into her office.

"Ready, Professor!" Harry gasped, rucksack in hand. McGonagall reckoned that he'd made the descent from Gryffindor Tower without hitting two out of every three steps.

"Catch your breath, Potter," she said. "You've got a long trip ahead of you. But you've been to the Burrow using the Floo Network before, haven't you?"

"Yes, Professor!" replied Harry. "Loads of times. And the one time I got lost, I was going from the Burrow, not -"

McGonagall interrupted him. "Never mind, Harry. Mr. Weasley is confident that you can handle this trip. And he and I will be waiting on either end should anything go awry. See to it that it doesn't, please."

"Right," said Harry. "Can I go now, then?"

"Very well," replied McGonagall, taking up the ivory vial from the desk. "This way, Potter, and be sure to hold in your elbows." She threw a generous handful of Floo powder into the fire. Harry inhaled deeply and stepped into the green flames. "The Burrow!" he shouted. And then he was gone.

McGonagall waited a few minutes, and threw another pinch from the silver box into the fire.

"Arthur?" she called. "Have you got him?"

The noise that emanated from the hearth was a bit cacophonous, but above the din, she recognized Fred and George carrying on. "Yes, Minerva, he's here. Hold on a minute . . ." McGonagall waited, tapping her foot. "Harry asks if you could send on Hedwig. Seems that in all his enthusiasm, he, er, forgot to take care of that."

McGonagall sighed. It was a small price to pay for getting Potter off her hands so quickly. Actually, she quite liked Potter's owl. Hagrid had done a very good job in selecting Hedwig; the snowy female exhibited a cool reserve Minerva found most becoming.

"I'll send her tomorrow, Arthur," she replied. "I've got an engagement just now."

"Thanks, Minerva," Mr. Weasley called through the fire. "I'll let him know. Enjoy your evening!"

That I will, she thought. She took up the calfskin covered box, ran a smoothing hand over her hair, and strode out of her office in the direction of the Headmaster's tower.

Now that the random outbreaks of print had been successfully contained, Minerva could enjoy the empty castle. The old place had a chance to breathe without herds of students thundering about; even the paintings seemed more relaxed. Crossing through the Entrance Hall, she saw that the denizens of several seventeenth and eighteenth century portraits were enjoying a game of cards in one of the large Pieter Brugel landscapes hanging over the stair. With Potter gone, the Fat Lady would get a real holiday, too, Minerva thought. Goodness knows she deserves one. Minerva was certain that she herself would become unhinged at the prospect of guarding Gryffindor Tower every day and night. As much as possible, she kept some distance from the place, leaving the prefects and the house-elves to maintain order. She preferred a more formal mien regarding her charges; this made discipline less of an ordeal and gave her time for her own work. And for chess.

Dumbledore was right - it had been months since they last played, and she found herself looking forward to tonight's match, both for the cognac and for the speed of a face to face game. Minerva carried out most of her chess matches via owl post. Under normal circumstances, she was incapable of playing for fun, and she had long ago exhausted most of her colleagues' appetite for the game. After a ruthless series of matches that lasted all of one summer, Poppy now refused to play with her at all. And Sinistra, even though she could happily spend twelve hours at a shot observing a single star, never kept her mind on anything terrestrial for long enough to complete an opening series. Snape, once he had returned to Hogwarts to teach, had only played her once. In retrospect, she considered, it had probably been a bit unwise of her to win that match as handily as she had, but Minerva was unaccustomed to giving quarter to anyone who was of age and Severus should have known better than to suggest a friendly game.

Dumbledore she played infrequently but with great pleasure. He had introduced her to chess in her student days, when he had worked with her father in the Department of Mysteries in addition to his teaching duties at Hogwarts. Even now, he lost with unfailing grace.

When Minerva arrived at the gargoyle guarding the entrance to the Headmaster's aerie, the door swung silently open as it always did when Albus was waiting for her. As she climbed the curving stair, she heard Fawkes singing a mournful tune; the Phoenix must be getting ready to burn again, she thought, an event Dumbledore normally welcomed. He had always enjoyed raising the bird from its infant state, but Minerva supposed that he now sympathized with Fawkes as the Phoenix periodically found itself in decline. As she walked into the Headmaster's office, Minerva saw a rather bedraggled looking Fawkes resting on his perch by the fire and the bird's master seated across the chess table, his white pieces awaiting her black.

"Good evening, Minerva," said Dumbledore, companionably. "How are Arthur and Molly tonight?"

Minerva smiled, pulling out a chair. "They're fine, Albus. Complete with a house full of children, just as usual."

"I assume that there will still be space enough for Harry?" Dumbledore asked.

"He's already there, Albus. Since Arthur was by the fire in the Burrow in any event, I sent Potter over the Floo Network."

Dumbledore chuckled. "Given the opportunity to empty Gryffindor Tower, Minerva, I didn't think you'd waste any time."

"No," answered Minerva, laughing too, "after the past few days of keeping Potter ignorant of our intruders, I thought better of any delay. Besides, with Potter safely at the Burrow, I can concentrate all the more fully on the matter at hand." She placed her chess box on the table between them.

"Very good, Minerva. Prepare your troops while I pour." Dumbledore moved to a side table where a crystal decanter half full of a warm amber liquid glowed in the firelight, two glasses at its side. "Cornelius may be behaving rather dimly of late, but his taste in such things is as good as it ever was."

Minerva opened the leather covered box, exposing an ebon army carved in the likeness of Henry's Tudors, complete with the red and white rose crowing the diminutive royals, their knights, and bishops. She carefully set her unmoving pieces on the bard and took the glass Albus handed her.

"Cheers, Minerva," said the Headmaster. "To peace and quiet."

"For as long as we may enjoy them," she replied.

Dumbledore looked at McGonagall's chessmen with a raised eyebrow. "Is that a Muggle set, Minerva?" he asked.

"It was at one time, Albus, but it had been quite thoroughly enchanted by the time it came to me. Its Transfiguration predates the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Act; Arthur will have no cause for concern."

"I wouldn't go to bail for the contents of your chess cupboard, Minerva. You do have a . . . disparate collection," said Dumbledore.

"My father gave me a good start, Albus, as you have reason to know."

"That he did. I took it as a great gift, his allowing me to teach you to play."

"He knew better than to try and teach me himself," Minerva replied. "He would have had me in tears every third move, and he understood that there could be no faster way to drive me from his favorite sport."

Minerva removed her wand from her sleeve and tapped the black queen. All along her side of the board, the ebony pieces shivered imperceptibly, seeming to warm from within. The two knights turned to salute their sovereigns. The king and the queen then bowed to each other and turned to face their opponent. Albus' white pieces acknowledged their foes and with no visible signal from him, sent a pawn forward in what Minerva immediately recognized as the Muzio gambit.

She smiled. Almost none of her regular opponents would dare to open with such a sacrifice, but Albus was far more intrigued by the play than he was concerned with the outcome, and his strategies were as unorthodox as they were well known to her. Directing her pieces quietly, she settled single-mindedly into the match.

Hours later, Dumbledore poured them both another glass of cognac while Minerva carefully tended to her victorious forces, returning each piece to the proper niche in the calfskin case. Glass in hand, Albus settled into his armchair before the fire, hoisting his slippered feet onto the hearth's low stool with a slight grimace. "Are you all right, Albus?" asked Minerva, suddenly solicitous, and trying not to sound as worried as she suddenly felt.

"Yes, Minerva, I'm just tired. Tired of what we must face again one day soon. And tired of watching and of waiting for it to arrive."

Minerva crossed over to the hearth and looked down on Albus as he gazed into the fire. "You should take this time to rest, Albus, rather than spend it entertaining me," she chided him.

"That's very kind of you, my dear, but we must all take care of each other in these trying times, and our invaders had wound you up rather tightly," he said, laughing softly. Minerva was glad to see him relax a bit, even at her own expense. "Have you found nothing pleasant to read among the stories pelting Gryffindor Tower all these weeks?"

"Even I have limited patience for the ongoing heroics of Harry Potter, Albus, and he and his friends seem to be the main focus of the voices' energies." Minerva paused a moment. "But I confess that I have been enjoying a different sort of tale. A younger teacher, specializing in defense, passionately determined, heavily armed, . . . she manages to terrify Miss Granger, and last I read, she'd even begun to tame Severus. Or he to tame her . . . it's hard to decide." Minerva grinned at the thought of the Potions Master in such straits. "Pity we can't actually hire her. And you, Albus?" she asked.

"My dear," the Headmaster replied, "despite my earlier bravura, as long as we have the opportunity to enjoy it, there is no sound I now crave more than silence. I am afraid my nerves are bad tonight, yes bad," he said as Minerva gazed at him, her face full of concern that she no longer bothered to hide. "Stay with me?" he asked her.

"Of course, Albus," she replied. Moving behind his chair, Minerva rested her hand on Dumbledore's shoulder. He covered her slender fingers with his own gnarled hand and said nothing more. A moment later, a lithe gray tabby cat arched her back alongside Dumbledore's chair, brushing the dangling fingers of his other hand. He smiled, stroked the cat behind her ears, and patted his knee. The cat leapt lightly onto his lap and settled down to watch the pulsing flames, Dumbledore's hand resting along her back.

For a long time, she listened to the old man's quiet and rhythmic breathing. When he finally fell asleep, she felt his arm soften and fall beside her, and for the rest of the night, Minerva kept her vigil, watching the fire for signs of the world to come.

*~*~*~*~*

Once the morning's light began to filter through the mullioned windows of Dumbledore's room, Minerva slipped silently to the floor and Transformed. She drew an afghan over the Headmaster's legs and quietly conjured a tray from the kitchens, complete with tea pot and wool cozy to keep it hot. Hearing Fawkes stir with the sun as the light reached his perch, she stroked the bird's now ragged head.

"It won't be long now," she reassured him softly. "Take care of him for me, will you?" The Phoenix leaned into her palm, letting out a low note. Minerva turned and fetched her chess box from the table. As she approached the door, it opened silently, allowing her to depart without waking Dumbledore.

When she reached her own office, Minerva was shocked to find the door already ajar. Stopping short of the entry, she quickly considered a plethora of possibilities. Potter? At the Burrow, where Arthur and Molly would surely keep him. Peeves? He wouldn't dare. Poppy? Not before noon during the holidays, and she wouldn't use the door in any event, preferring to visit through the fires. Person or persons unknown? Palming her wand, Minerva moved quickly toward the door.

As she reached the threshold, a voice called out. "Good morning! Sorry to have popped in like this. You must be Professor McGonagall."

Stepping through the doorway, Minerva saw a woman sitting behind her desk, booted feet propped up on one corner. Her hands were in view and clearly empty, although Minerva could hardly miss the sheathed sword lying across her blotter.

"Ah. Yes," said Minerva. "but I don't believe we've been introduced. To whom do I have the pleasure of speaking?"

"Oh, sorry again, I guess." The woman hastily pulled her feet to the floor and rose to meet Minerva, leaving her sword behind. "I do everything backwards. My name's Chance. I'm not really due here for another few days, but as I found myself in the neighborhood, I thought I'd have a look around. I do hope I'm not being a bother," she added, faltering under Minerva's unswerving gaze. "No one seems to be about this morning. I think a house-elf let me in."

A faint smile began to cross Minerva's face as she listened to this unlikely speech. "Hogwarts has many guardians," she replied, easing her wand back up her sleeve. "If you have made it this far, someone clearly thinks you ought to be here."

"Well, Dumbledore's letter didn't much concern itself with details," the young woman replied, reaching for her pocket. "Would you like to see it?" she offered.

"That won't be necessary, mademoiselle," said Minerva.

"Please," the other woman interrupted. "Call me Viviane."


"Very well, Viviane. Have you traveled far?"

"I have, rather," Viviane answered.

Minerva glanced at the floor where a traveling cloak was draped over a leather rucksack. "Then leave your things and follow me for a spot of breakfast. We are very few, just now, but the kitchens carry on as always."

"I'd like that," said Viviane, reaching back to the desk for her sword, which she wore with such ease that Minerva doubted she ever left it off for long. "Who else is here, by the way? Remus wasn't sure who'd be left in the castle outside of term time."

"I'm not entirely sure myself," Minerva replied. She gestured for Viviane to precede her into the corridor, and shutting the door firmly behind them, she led the new teacher toward the Great Hall.

As they walked, Minerva attempted to form a coherent explanation that would explain Viviane Chance's presence in the castle as her guest frankly examined their surroundings. After all, it was one thing to hear a story winding idly through the air or to read it upon the wall and quite another to stumble upon its protagonist sitting in one's own chair. For a moment, she considered whether or not Albus might be engaging in some sort of an elaborate prank, but thinking back on his state of the previous evening, she disregarded the idea as not only uncharitable but impossible; at the moment, he simply didn't have the energy to spare.

These stories must be making themselves available to all of us who figure in them, and as we read them, they grow stronger. That only stands to reason. And if I found Viviane's adventures diverting, I can only imagine what Severus' reaction will be when he recognizes her. No wonder he was so eager to manufacture the erasing solution; it seemed very team-spirited of him at the time. How surprised he will be to see his efforts backfire.

If it's a sort of Transfiguration, it's both naïve and wickedly advanced. To turn voice into a text is one thing - that's a matter of media. But to transform a story into flesh and blood would require a different magnitude of creation. Could we have done such a thing without conscious effort? Have we become so desperate for help in these trying times that we now simply will allies into existence with no more thought than breathing? And if so, what will happen when the word made flesh exhausts its narrative?

I should have asked to see that letter, although any force that could manifest Viviane Chance would think nothing of simple forgery. Albus insists that the stories are the products of Muggles; what kind of power allows them to simply insert their fantasies into our world? She paused her musing as they reached the door to the Great Hall. Or are we all simply the end result of such imaginings? she considered, pulling open the weighty, ornamented door.

At the far end of the hall, she could see Severus idly chewing a piece of toast and reading the Daily Prophet. He was alone. Perfect, she thought. Witnesses would be nice, but he'll dissemble less without them. She turned to her companion. "It seems only Severus has come to breakfast so far, but I'm sure he won't mind our company."

Viviane paled slightly. "Oh," she said, swallowing. "Remus warned me about him."

"I cannot reassure you that Severus' bark is worse than his bite, but he's not unmanageable," Minerva replied, spying a flash of brown and white fur racing up the table. "And you have a chance to make a good start. It looks like he's not alone after all. The dog's name is Fidelis. Be nice to him."

Snape glanced up as he heard footsteps enter the hall. Minerva's chess game must have broken up early, he thought, for her to be in search of breakfast. He returned momentarily to the week's Puddlemere United scores before the realization struck him that McGonagall was not alone. Slowly, and without moving the paper, he raised his eyes again to the pair walking toward him. Following McGonagall was a tall woman with wavy dark hair, pulled back rather carelessly. She had an arresting face, but what captivated his attention was the sword dangling from her hip. His mind raced to the tales he'd swear were safely contained in his rooms. I'd think you would treat your precious family relic with more respect, he heard his own voice echo in his head.

"Good morning, Severus," Minerva called to him as they approached. I bet he's never had to deal with a lusty Frenchwoman who likes a challenge. It will be amusing to watch that cold intellectual succumb to passion, she recalled. "Did the house-elves bring you my recipe?"

"Yes, thank you, Minerva. They and Mr. Filch should have all they need by now. And who, may I inquire . . . ?"

"Oh excuse me, Severus, of course. May I introduce Viviane Chance? I found her in my office this morning. It seems she's arrived a bit earlier than Dumbledore was expecting her and I'm sure she's famished. Viviane, meet Severus Snape, our Potions master."

Viviane, who had been hanging back a bit as though to keep Minerva as a shield between herself and the Potions master, stepped up to the table. "Um, hello," she said, stammering slightly.

Severus blanched, but managed not to drop his newspaper into his plate of eggs. "Good morning, mademoiselle," he replied, cautiously. "Care for some tea?"

"Thank you, but I don't suppose there might be any coffee?"

Minerva cocked her ear toward the table. "There may be some, but I'm not sure if the house-elves know what to do with . . ."

Suddenly, Viviane leapt backwards, her right hand grasping her sword. "What in the world?" asked Minerva, sternly.

"Fidelis!" cried Snape. "Let her go!"

For a split second, Viviane considered hurling the tiny dog hanging from her sleeve through the window, but remembering Minerva's advice, she thought better of it. Instead, she extended her left arm over the table and allowed Fidelis to drop only a few inches into a plate of bacon. Snape snatched up the dog, placing Fidelis on his shoulder. "Sit!" he hissed. "Please excuse him, mademoiselle. He is not accustomed to strangers," said Snape, glaring at McGonagall.

Viviane thought better of the first reply that crossed her mind. "Minerva, do you suppose the house-elves would mind if I saw to that coffee myself?"

"No, of course not," Minerva answered. "What a good idea." McGonagall pointed her wand at one of the banners behind the head table and a door appeared. "It's just through there."

"Thanks. Back in a minute," said Viviane.

Snape waited until the door had swung shut behind Viviane Chance.

"Minerva," he whispered icily, "don't think I don't see what you're trying to do here."

"What, Severus?" Minerva replied, attempting to sound even more innocent than she was. "I'm not doing anything other than being hospitable to a guest. What did you think, that I'd shoved the poor woman into a hole in the wall?"

Fidelis growled.

"That's not what I meant," hissed Snape. "Be quiet, Fidelis," he added, catching hold of the dog before Fidelis could gain enough traction to launch himself at Minerva. "Where did she come from?"

"I've no idea, Severus. No more than you do, I'm sure. She was waiting for me in my office this morning, luggage in hand, boots draped over my desk." Minerva shuddered slightly. "She claims to have a letter from Dumbledore, if you care to see it," she added.

"Dumbledore!" Snape exclaimed, rising from his chair.

Minerva stopped him with a hand on his free shoulder. "I'll thank you not to wake Albus, please. He'll show himself when he's ready." Minerva paused, looking serious. "You know how little rest he's gotten of late."

Snape considered this. Whatever else they bickered about, he and Minerva were united in their concern for the Headmaster's well-being. "Of course, Minerva. I take it he got some sleep last night?" Snape asked.

"Several hours, Severus, thank you," McGonagall replied. "And while Mademoiselle Chance's appearance presents us with a conundrum, it doesn't seem to be an emergency. She hasn't attacked anyone," she said, glancing at Fidelis. "Not yet, anyway."

"What do you suppose she's doing here?" Snape asked, just as the door behind him swung open.

"Teaching, I gather," replied Minerva, as Viviane returned to the table, steaming mug in hand.


Snape suppressed a growl and fell silent.

"Well, Viviane, can I get you anything else? I don't think Fidelis managed to crush all the bacon. Please, help yourself."

"Thanks, Minerva," said Viviane, taking a sip of her coffee. "I'll have some in a minute." Being careful not to entangle her sword in the table legs as she sat down.

"I'm afraid the Headmaster is not available at the moment, Viviane, and I have a small task awaiting me in the owlery. But I'm sure that Severus would be pleased to show you around after breakfast," Minerva said, smiling.

Snape shot Minerva a smoldering look that contained just a hint of interest beneath the ire.

"Of course, Minerva," he replied, coolly. "I'd be glad to."

"Wonderful," said Minerva, reaching for a piece of toast from the rack as she pushed back her chair. "I'll be in my office later if you need me."

"Thanks for the coffee," said Viviane.

Minerva though the younger woman looked a bit apprehensive at being left alone with Snape. Well, I'm sure she'll be able to handle him, Minerva thought, whether she recognizes the fact or no.

"Good morning, Professor McGonagall," said Snape, placing Fidelis on the table, but still keeping the dog contained in his hand.

"Good morning, Professor Snape, Mademoiselle Chance," Minerva replied. She turned toward the door and strode out, robes swishing.

"Rrriffff!" yipped Fidelis, as Viviane extended a tentative finger in his direction.

~finis~

 

 

 

//
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