Most of us were already seated at the High Table -- except the new man and Snape, who was busily handing out class schedules to the House Prefects for distribution. (He looked harassed, and I was sure he was mentally cursing Filius Flitwick for landing him in the Deputy Head post.) A great Potions Master and spy he might be, but an administrator he was not.
I'd just started in on my plate when a cheery and strangely familiar voice sounded to my left.
"I hear the food at Hogwarts is just smashing. Hope so -- at the last place it was rotten. Practically prison fare."
I dropped my fork and turned to look the stranger up and down.
Blond hair close-cropped, clean-shaven, lean but no longer emaciated -- and cheeky dark-brown eyes that dared to give me a wink.
"Up for a bike ride later?" he murmured under his breath, and then thrust a hand my way. "Valentine Jonson, Transfigurations," he said, loud again. "You must be Professor Hunter."
Good God -- she's hired Sirius Black. Snape is going to kill her.
In a daze, I gave him my hand and he pumped it enthusiastically.
"Sorry -- carry on," he said, taking his seat as his own plate popped onto the table.
Hooch snickered beside me, and I turned to glare at her.
"I do now. Merlin's balls, Miranda, we're both from the same House, I was just two years ahead of him -- I recognise his voice."
"Glamour," Black volunteered under his breath. "Face is just different enough that the students won't notice. And the hair, of course. Flitwick and I didn't get the long-term charm ironed out until late last night."
I determined that the best course of action was to ignore Black and Hooch -- they were both sniggering, now -- and I returned my attention to my breakfast. At least I did until Snape made his way up the the dais and started to take his chair next to Minerva, sweeping the tails of his teaching robe out of the way --
-- and froze half-sitting, his eyes fixed on the "stranger" at the end of the table.
Comprehension flared across his face instantly, and you could read the profanities flitting at light-speed through his mind. He sank into the chair, his head turning slowly to Minerva. I couldn't see his expression, and I didn't want to: I imagine even the formidable Minerva McGonagall was feeling distinctly uncomfortable at the moment.
Hooch sniggered yet again, and I returned her favour of the previous evening and jabbed her in the ribs.
"Jonson" tried to make small talk several times during the meal, and each time he attempted it I turned the ice up a notch in my monosyllabic responses. (Not that Snape could hear us -- though he probably could -- but I didn't appreciate the shock.) As soon as was decently possible, immediately after Minerva introduced "Valentine Jonson" to the students and dismissed them for class, Snape was out the Anteroom door, and I was a close second.
Severus Snape was enraged. I'd only seen him this badly off once, and it had been at me.
I'd suspected I'd find him out at the folly that evening after he'd had time to check on his Common Room, and I was right.
"I expect she was desperate, Severus. She can't possibly teach full-time now -- you know how much administrative work there is. I know she's been looking since the end of spring term. He was probably a last resort."
"Of all the -- the cheek --" He was so angry as to be incapable of even a decent curse: it was that bad.
"You'll only have to deal with him occasionally, you know. And it's probably for the best -- he can keep a closer eye on Potter."
"He's more likely to aid and abet Potter," he seethed.
"I doubt that. He's a teacher now, and a responsible ad--." I stopped myself short; responsible was not a word I should be using of Sirius Black, not after my experience last summer on the motorcycle. "Well, he's an adult, let's put it that way."
He hadn't caught my slip, for once: he was currently sitting on the bench, his face buried in his hands.
"Good gods," he groaned. "This is my worst nightmare."
"I thought that was being at the mercy of Albus, Poppy, me, and two highly obnoxious Elves."
He lifted his head to glare at me.
"It could be worse. You could be stranded on a deserted island with him. Think what fun that would be."
"Incorrect. I could kill him outright, were that so," he muttered.
It would have been funny, had I not thought him capable of it with the proper provocation.
"At any rate, I expect Albus' injunction to the two of you still stands," I said firmly. "And as at least one of you must behave like a civilised human being, and I doubt his qualifications, I nominate you."
"May I refuse the nomination?"
"Not in this instance, no."
He was too tired to keep the tirade up for long, and finally leaned back against the bench. He looked thoroughly worn out, and I sent an uncharitable thought Minerva's way for springing this on him.
On the other hand, sometimes begging forgiveness is better than suing for permission (not to mention putting up with an outraged and sulking Severus Snape for a single day more than was necessary). Minerva had probably played this one right.
"I have to go back and get some sleep -- some genius scheduled me for a combined Gryffindor-Slytherin class first thing in the morning," I said with a straight face, staring down at said genius. "Promise me you'll go in soon and do the same?"
"Yes, yes, all right. But only after I give McGonagall a piece of my mind."
I knew that was the best I'd get out of him, so I nodded and headed down the stairs before he stopped me.
"Miranda -- wear Longbottom's brooch as often as you can."
I gave him a puzzled look and he provided an explanation. "It's one of the few charms that grows stronger with use."
"Ah. I will, then. Good night, Severus."
He grunted what might be loosely translated as the same.
I hurried back to my rooms and rooted through the teaching robe I'd worn yesterday: I'd quite forgotten Mrs. Longbottom's letter and the slim little box, after the sherry- and gossip-induced hilarity in the staff room the previous evening.
She loved Neville very much, and would never forget what I had done last year for him -- everything, it seems, not just the Patronus. And I had a standing invitation to visit Lancashire over hols, but I might particularly like to experience how Solstice and Yule were celebrated in a traditional wizarding home.
I wiped my eyes and blew my nose, pinned the brooch to the cardigan I habitually wore in my rooms, and went to bed.
On the Saturday morning I had a very special errand to run. I walked down to Heart's Solace -- Arthur and Molly were still there -- and Arthur, bless him, Apparated me to London so I could do some business. Kate Climpson was already waiting for me at the little café I used to frequent near the theatre district.
"Professor Hunter," she said with a smile.
"Miss Climpson -- you haven't waited long, have you? My ride to Town was running a little late." As usual.
"Oh, quite all right -- I've been enjoying this." She nodded to the drink in before her. "I think they called it a cuppa Cheeno?"
"Cappucino. They're lovely, aren't they?"
"Quite. I think I have already acquired a taste for them. Now," she said, leaning toward me confidentially, "do tell me why you asked to meet here."
"I wanted to be certain no one at Fortescue's or the Cauldron might overhear."
"Oh, marvelous!" Her eyes gleamed and she nearly clapped her gloved hands. "I thought it must be some kind of espionage. I'm thrilled. It reminds me of the old days with Lord Peter."
I confess that my jaw dropped as I -- finally -- made the connection. Lord Peter. Climpson.
I surreptitiously pinched myself under the table: no, I was certainly awake. That meant the funny men in white suits should be headed down the hall to give me my injection any moment now.
When I finally pulled myself togther I told her, "I'm afraid it's a little more mundane than espionage, but it's sensitive nonetheless. I came into a bit of money last spring, you see, and I'd like to transfer it to a Muggle bank -- one in Switzerland, actually, not the usual." (She was accustomed to making occasional transfers between Gringotts and my muggle institution.) "It's... it's not that I think Gringotts itself isn't secure, but --"
This was awkward, but what I was proposing involved a lot more than a simple transaction and would require a much longer commitment of her time. I owed her an explanation, so I forged ahead.
"I don't know how much you've gathered for yourself about the current political situation...."
"Ah. That's your worry. Don't apologise, Professor Hunter." She again leaned across the table and informed me in a whisper, "Minister Protheroe is rather less sanguine about... You-Know-Who than Minister Fudge, and he's preparing the Department for some unpleasantness. You want to put this beyond wiz-- beyond certain people's meddling. I quite understand."
"Yes, that's it exactly."
"I see. Well, just give me the account information and the name of the foreign bank, and I'll arrange it."
"I'm afraid it's a bit more complicated -- it's a larger sum than usual, and it's in a different account -- I have to sign for it myself, and then authorise you." I passed over the documents I'd received from Albus' solicitor and she scanned them, her eyes widening only slightly when she noted the amount.
"Oh, my, yes. Yes, that will take some doing, and Gringotts won't be pleased to lose the account."
"I thought we might take care of the signatures this morning if you have time --" Gringotts kept Saturday-morning hours, believe it or not, "-- and then I propose to treat you to lunch, and we can discuss how to handle things on the Swiss end. And I'm afraid it is we -- I'm rather certain withdrawals will be needed on a regular basis, though I'm not sure when they will start."
"No, none of us can tell, can we?" she said soberly as she rolled the scrolls and handed them back. "I thought it was a very bad sign indeed, that business last spring with Headmaster Dumbledore. So you're intending to use it to --?"
"I don't know, yet, but Headmaster left me a letter indicating I should use it to... to aid the effort in whatever way necessary. Or he knew I'd do it anyway -- you could never tell, with him."
"One can never tell with that family -- a bit spooky, all of them. I was two years ahead of his nephew at Hogwarts -- some Divination talent in the family, I think. At any rate, you needn't worry about my time. Good cause, after all."
"Wonderful." It was a great relief to have her on board. I snagged her bill for the cappucino -- she probably carried some muggle money with her, but might be horrified to learn how expensive specialty coffees could be -- and waved the waiter over to settle up.
"I should like to have another of those later," she said wistfully of her capuccino.
"We can come back for lunch. It's not far there and back, if we take the Tube," I suggested. (I'd thought of this place with her in mind, actually: it catered to actors and theatrical types, and I'd figured one elderly woman in 1930s costume wouldn't attract too much attention. And she hadn't.)
"That would be most acceptable. Well," she said, gathering up her handbag, "let's get started, then."
I resolved during the Tube trip not to tell her about Starbuck's and straight espresso. No point in turning the poor woman into a total caffeine junkie.
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Climpson and Lord Peter: again, not my people. See the Lord Peter Wimsey mystery series by Dorothy L. Sayers. And I'm very glad to see Miss Climpson appear in Miranda's life again.
Dumbledore's nephew? I didn't know he had a nephew. Not from the infamous Aberforth, surely? Maybe there's a sister in the family tree. I'm resisting the urge to have her marry a man named Mulder.