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
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
"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,"
"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?"
"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
"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
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
"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
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
"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?"
"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
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,
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
"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.