"Professor Hunter," he said in greeting, his face flickering in the flames. "And good day, Severus. I trust you're much improved since I saw you last, Professor Hunter?"
"Much. I hope things are going well on your end?"
"Quite well. The Proclamation is being drafted as we speak, and will be announced on the Wireless tomorrow. I'll be expected to give a speech afterward, to address the current grave situation -- and I should like very much to be able to discuss the financial end of things as well."
"As I just found out this morning, perhaps you should tell me what you'd like to propose," I suggested.
"I plan to declare the establishment of the Albion as the new standard of currency. It's been successful as a unit of barter in Hogsmeade, I understand, and I have hopes the rest of the kingdom will take to it as well on that basis. Cassell's is poised to produce the amounts we would require. It would, however," he continued hesitantly, "be advantageous to back that up with actual reserves and materials...."
"Has Percy given you some idea of the moneys available?"
"He said there was sufficient to get us through the next few months, but declined to give me an actual number, in your absence."
Percy gave me a prim nod to confirm this, amusingly. I'd gotten more than I bargained for in him as an accountant; he was even more cautious and paranoid than I.
"I don't know the exact balance at the moment, but I'm sure Percy does -- feel free to divulge, Percy," I instructed him, and he popped out of his seat and passed the ledger book through to the Prime (well, soon-to-be Prime) Minister.
Whose eyes went very round at the balance sheet, in Euros, Pounds and the Galleon equivalents.
"My word. Are you certain you want to do this, Professor Hunter?"
"It's not my money, it's Albus Dumbledore's," I said firmly. "I wouldn't know what to do with that on my own account. It boggles the mind."
"Left it to you, did he?" he mused, and shot me a telling look. "Knew you'd move it, didn't he?"
"He was aware," I said dryly, "that though there's much I've accepted of this world, there's also much that I'm still cautious about." Blatantly distrustful, in fact.
"Blast it," he muttered. "I deeply regret not being able to help him more. One always had to be cautious with Fudge, and with Malfoy lurking about.... I should very much have liked to have had Albus' advice, just about now. Malfoy's been far less in evidence at the Ministry, Severus, by the way. I think you should expect some trouble soon."
"It's expected," Severus replied calmly. "We're taking steps to guard against the most likely angle of attack. I'd prefer not to discuss it over the floo, but can apprise you of it in person."
"Let me get through tomorrow, and then we'll meet -- it will have to be here in town, I'm afraid. Let Climpson know when to expect you."
Severus nodded the acceptability of that, and Protheroe sighed and passed the ledger back through to me.
"I think we shall have to draw on this posthaste, Professor Hunter. We're already suffering deprivation from the lack of building materials, and blatant food shortages will be next. I must address that immediately."
"Kate Climpson is authorised to make the withdrawals, and I think given the circumstances we can dispense with progress reports to me -- Percy's proven himself an able steward," I said, and young Weasley blushed violently at the compliment. "Although -- I'm sorry, Severus," I said with a glance at him, "I suspect it would be more convenient for Minister Protheroe and Kate if Percy were with them, from an accounting standpoint."
He wasn't happy about it -- Percy took care of a lot of his administrative needs -- but he recognised the necessity, and nodded.
"Percy, my boy, you don't mind running back down here, do you?" Protheroe had the grace to ask him.
"No, sir. I'll be there first thing in the morning."
"Good." Protheroe heaved a sigh. "You have my thanks, Professor Hunter, as inadequate as they are -- and as soon as all this is over, you'll have official thanks from the Government, as well."
"You're welcome. I'm rather happy to turn it over, actually -- it's been a big worry."
"There is some good news on this end, by the way. I received an owl from Hagrid this morning. The Giants have sided with us."
"Surprising, but gratifying," Severus muttered. "And the situation at Diagon Alley?"
"No change. The Arithmancy is simply impenetrable. And I suspect Voldemort is waiting until we are in dire straits before making any demands. Apparently he's realised he has nowhere near the support necessary."
"Good. Although if this venture is successful, I think you may expect reprisals."
"I'd feel far better if we could oust his people from Gringotts'," Protheroe admitted. "We know there's a strong Dark Arts component to the Arithmancy. I don't suppose you have any contacts --?"
"I might know of one or two," Severus conceded. "Shall we discuss it later?"
"Let's. I," Protheroe said with another sigh, "am in dire need of a short nap and a cup of tea. And then I need to cobble this speech together. So I'll wink off now, I think. Give my regards to your mother, please, Percy."
And with that the fire flared out.
I collapsed into the chaise-cushions. I wasn't joking about a burden being lifted: I'd felt incredibly responsible for all that money.
"Thank you, sir," Percy said to Severus. "Not that I mind working for you, but --"
"Don't worry over it, Weasley," Severus said irritably. "You're needed elsewhere, I understand that."
"I'd recommend that Ginny take over, but she's a bit young," Percy said hesitantly, "and with the Tom Riddle business --"
I didn't know about that. (And who the dickens was Tom Riddle?) Something else to try to pry out of Severus.
"He might still have a way to get to her," Severus finished for him with a nod. "No, I think a Hufflepuff Seventh is my best option. I'll have a word with Sprout."
"Oh, Professor Hunter -- I think, given the circumstances," Percy said with a blush, "that the supplements to Hogwarts will have to be suspended until we have a better grasp of what it's going to take --"
"We'll deal with it, Percy," I told him. "I spoke to Headmistress this morning, and she said we're fine until February. I expect we should plan on going over to the Albion, like everyone else. I'll tell her."
"Good. Well, I'd best get packing, then...." he awkwardly stepped over to shake my hand and take the ledger from me, and then hesitantly offered his to Severus as well. Which action elicited a slightly-raised eyebrow, but no rebuff: a firm handshake in return, and a nod in lieu of thanks. And then Percy bustled out.
And we both sat there, silent -- Molly, being up at the castle in the Infirmary, wasn't there to intrude with tea and sympathy.
"Thank God that's over," I moaned eventually. "Or at least, it's out of my hands."
Severus acknowleged that with a snort. "You are the only person on the face of the planet," he eventually muttered, "who would be grateful to lose a fortune."
"I didn't lose it, I gave it away with both hands, gladly," I retorted, "and I told you, it wasn't mine to begin with." I suddenly sat upright. "Oh, Sweet Jaysus, do not tell me I have to pay duties on that lot --"
"No," he said with amusement. "We are far more civilised than Muggles, in that respect, at least. You earned it, you keep it. No doubt that's one reason Albus was able to lay so much by. Merlin's beard, woman, you hadn't thought of that before?"
"No," I said tartly. "I've had rather a lot on my mind, the last few months. And not a little distraction," I added with a glare at him.
He wasn't in the least repentant.
Sirius Black had been avoiding me since the end of October, when he'd sensed that Severus and I had pursued a more intimate relationship. Bloody good thing, too: he'd finally taken me seriously, and evidently decided that if he couldn't keep from pestering me about it, he'd best stay clear. Valentine Jonson had been more reserved with me than usual, and Sirius hadn't bothered me at all.
Minerva had gotten to him somehow. I don't know what she'd threatened him with, but it must have been potent. So potent that he didn't bother to approach me at all. He went to Severus.
I'd flooed to Severus' rooms -- though I hated it -- to check on him on his return from his meeting with Protheroe; Minerva hadn't yet had Filius and Vector charm a door for us, so in the interim the floo had been made two-way. He was at his desk, busily composing a letter.
"How did it go?" I asked, dusting soot from my shoulders.
"Well -- good gods, woman, don't shed that muck on the carpet."
"Where, then?" I grumbled. "You really ought to have that floo cleaned."
"I'm contacting some people for Protheroe who might be able to work on the Gringotts barriers," he muttered. "Assuming that they're still alive, and not the ones responsible in the first place --"
A tentative knock on the door interrupted us, and I sprang back to the mantle to floo back -- and found his tin of floo powder empty.
"Bedchamber," he hissed, and I ran for it as he rose from the desk and crossed to the door. "Who is it?"
"Black," came the muttered reply.
We both froze, and then Severus gave me a grim look, pulled out his wand, and irritably jerked his head for me to hide. I slipped behind the bedchamber door.
Needless to say, I didn't close it.
I heard him unward the door and jerk it open. "Well?"
"I, uh.... Look, can I come in? I'm not here to make a scene."
There wasn't a verbal response, but I could hear Sirius' feet shuffle across the flagstones at the entrance, and Severus shut the door.
"McGonagall's had me in for a talk," Sirius said, remarkably quietly, "and she's made it clear to me -- among other things -- that if I'm tempted to shoot my mouth off, I'd wish I'd never been born."
Ooooooo, this is too good. I have to see this.
I sidled over to the hinge side of the door and pressed my face against the crack.
Sirius had his back to me; Severus was leaning against the sitting room door, arms crossed across his chest. His wand was still firmly in his hand, though.
"How much did she tell you?" Severus asked coldly.
"That you'd, uh... done the honourable thing. And that if I couldn't control myself, I could put Miranda in danger."
Severus nodded grimly.
"So I just wanted you to know, I can manage to keep quiet -- at least for her sake. It's either that or an Obliviate, and I think you can guess how I feel about that."
Severus relaxed marginally and nodded. "Having survived Azkaban relatively intact --"
"Right. Much as there are some things I'd like to forget... I figure I have to take the bad with the good. Anyway, I wanted to let you know, myself, that there's nothing to worry about from me."
"I appreciate that," Severus said quietly.
"But," Sirius continued more determinedly, "let me just make this clear, and it's a promise, not a threat. I've pretty well mucked up my friendship with her myself, but I still worry about her, no matter how questionable I think her mental state --"
Oh, cripes, he just had to get that little jab in.
Luckily, Severus didn't rise to the bait, though his eyes glittered at the statement.
"-- but if you hurt her, I'll find a way to make you pay for it. Maybe not 'till all this mess is resolved, but I'll do it," Sirius finished.
"Black," Severus said softly, "if any harm comes to her either by or through me, you shan't have to make the effort."
I couldn't see Sirius' face, damn it, but I'm pretty certain his jaw dropped. He sensed as well as I the implications behind that statement.
"Good," he finally said, "though I'd appreciate it if you didn't do anything stupid in the way of self-punishment. Give me the satisfaction of taking care of it for you."
"Done," Severus said, "with my blessing. I shall be entirely at your disposal." The corners of his mouth twitched.
It was exceptionally restrained of both of them, considering that they wanted to rip each others' guts out.
"Well, that's all then," Sirius said -- and then added, through gritted teeth, "though I suppose congratulations are in order."
Severus' lips twitched again; he nodded gravely to accept them and stood, reaching for the door handle.
Sirius suddenly turned his head over his shoulder and added casually, "You too, Miranda."
I jerked back from the door, and then collapsed against the wall, my head hitting it with a soft thud.
Ow, I thought, seeing stars. Bloody canine sense of smell.
There was a distinct, exasperated snort from Severus.
"Thank you, Sirius," I said weakly.
The door opened, Sirius slouched out, and Severus closed and warded it -- and glared at me as I came back out into the sitting room.
"Remind me never to engage you as a spy," he said dryly.
"Oh, stop it," I said irritably, rubbing at my forehead. "Fix this for me, will you? It's going to bruise. And I'm going to need a headache powder."
"Bad enough you incited half the Gryffindors to mutiny with that Patronus stunt last year," he grumbled as he pushed me into a chair and prepared to heal the burgeoning knot on my head. "You simply had to enchant that thick git, as well."
It's harder to accomplish than you might think: there's too little sun in the Highlands in winter to start seedlings as early as Sprout wanted, even with magical methods of coaxing the seeds up, so she resorted to Muggle methods: an indoors set-up with Gro-lights. It was completely illegal, of course: it fell squarely under the heading of Misuse of Muggle Artifacts, and Arthur should, by rights, have reported Sprout and Minerva. (He didn't, of course.)
That's when it became clear to me that all this was going to hit close to home.
Severus was so irate on the return from his latest trip to France that he didn't notice right off. The French Wizarding government, while sympathetic, had no intention of offering anything other than moral support. They'd already turned down Protheroe's request for financial loans, made before I'd turned Albus' money over: and they informed Severus that they weren't going to lend us their best Arithmancers to break the Gringotts siege, either.
Severus was pacing about my sitting room furiously, deep in mid-rant.
"-- even the Ministry's finally decided we're in the middle of a war. Why the bloody hell can't they?" he bellowed --
-- and stopped dead in his tracks and stared at me, suddenly noticing what was different.
"Why are you marking by candlelight?"
"I asked Filius and Olivia to drop the shielding around my rooms," I muttered, and prayed he'd let it drop.
"Because Sprout needs to start a growing room using Muggle lights, that's why. It's too much for them to keep both going."
I'd been mortified when Filius confessed to me how much magical power it took for him and Olivia to maintain the shielding that allowed me to maintain my comfortable Muggle lifestyle: it had simply never occurred to me to ask until I'd noticed how tired they'd both seemed, while trying to set up Sprout's new forcing room.
Oblivious to the consequences, yet again. So here I was: embarrassed by my thoughtlessness, irked that my brand-new computer was useless, and already tired of squinting in the dim candlelight -- and having to explain it all to Severus, whom I suspected would not be at all sympathetic.
I was wrong about that, as it happens. Unfortunately, his sympathy -- on the few occasions it was expressed -- was often filtered through testiness, and I wasn't in the mood to deal with it patiently that evening.
"How are you supposed to function?" Severus asked in outrage.
I shrugged. "Much the same as the rest of you, I suppose."
"That's entirely different," he said scathingly. "You're M--"
"Don't say it," I said sharply, and glared at him. "Human beings lived for millennia without electricity. I can manage without it until Sprout's done."
He glared back. "You shouldn't be expected to, is my point," he said scathingly. "Merlin's balls, you're already struggling to keep up, and there's not a blasted thing I can do to --"
He stopped suddenly and clamped his lips shut.
Ah. I should have known he'd take it this way: his pride tended to take the oddest forms. He'd caught me turning the cuffs on one of his shirts last week (the Elves never bothered, Dobby said, because Severus had always told them to order new shirts, which was out of the question at the moment). I was used to doing it -- Gran and I had always done, for Da -- and I hadn't given it a second thought. But evidently Severus Snape's wife shouldn't have to lower herself to mending and darning. (He'd expressed considerable outrage that I had to do it -- mostly. If truth be told, there were grumbles about shabbiness involved, as well. He was fastidious about his linen.)
He resumed his restless pacing behind me as I returned to marking, and I said automatically, "Don't say that, either."
"What? I wasn't --"
"You were berating yourself for keeping me here in this so-called mess. Just -- don't even think it."
"Your grandmother," he said sardonically after a significant silence, "Was wrong. You don't have the Sight, you read minds. Or did Albus somehow confer that upon you, as well?"
"No, that's acquired by living with a very transparent ten year-old," I shot back. "And by living with a Slytherin with an overly-active sense of guilt -- who sometimes acts like a ten year-old."
That last bit was not appreciated. I didn't get my bedtime snog.
Back to BNW Index
Bear with me for a while. While Miranda is now in a somewhat more privileged position in terms of getting information, she's still not a primary participant, and still has her normal duties to contend with. Learning to live with Snape probably is the most exciting thing she has to deal with, at the moment.
Twenty points to the first spotter of the reference to an obscure film.