'Well, Potter, Malfoy I think you ought to be outside on a glorious day like this,' Professor McGonagall continued briskly.
Harry did not need telling twice - he thrust his wand back inside his robes and headed straight for the front doors without another glance at Snape and Malfoy.
Snape and McGonagall watched Harry march out into the sunshine. Malfoy opened his mouth angrily, but Snape forestalled him. 'You too, Malfoy,' he said. 'I need not remind you to tread warily around Potter from now on; indeed, to be careful generally.'
Snape gazed meaningfully at Malfoy, who glared, then turned and stomped off after Crabbe and Goyle.
'I need to speak to you quite urgently, Professor Snape,' McGonagall said softly.
Snape nodded, his eyes distant. 'My office is nearest,' he said, offering his arm.
The two teachers sat in silence in front of the fire in Snape's office. McGonagall sipped her tea, quietly waiting. Snape gazed into the flames, searching for something to say.
'When?' he said finally. 'Was it murder?'
'Early yesterday evening,' she answered, 'And no; Dilys said it was definitely natural causes-'
'There's nothing natural about dying at the age of 43,' Snape whispered. 'What about Alice? Has Neville been told yet?'
'Physically Alice is well; it's too early to say how Frank's death is affecting her. I imagine Neville will be told when he gets home. There's no point distressing him any sooner.'
Snape stared silently into the fire, his eyes unreadable. McGonagall replaced the cup in the saucer, watching him as she considered how best to phrase her next bombshell. Snape closed his eyes, a sudden weariness crossing a face which was normally impassive. McGonagall sighed. There was no easy way to put it.
'Fudge was there when Frank's mother arrived,' she said. 'He told her that now there is no doubt about the return of He Who Must Not Be Named, the Ministry of Magic will be doing everything in its power to defeat him, beginning with the immediate arrest of known Death Eaters. And he'll be petitioning for the severest penalty for anyone found guilty of supporting him.'
She paused. Snape looked at her, his gaze suddenly sharp.
'He's going for the death sentence, Severus. And he's coming for you.'
'The ridiculous fool,' Snape hissed. 'Why me? It was my evidence that convicted Crouch and the Lestranges, he can't possibly seriously think me guilty!'
'I don't know,' McGonagall replied. 'but he's spent almost a year insisting to the world that You Know Who is gone, and now he's been forced to admit he was wrong, he's looking for a way to redeem himself. He failed to recapture Black, and there are still Death Eaters are on the run. Now Frank Longbottom has finally died of his injuries. Fudge badly needs a victory.'
'He's got Malfoy and his gang,' Snape muttered.
McGonagall lowered her gaze. 'Yes,' she said quietly, 'but Malfoy wasn't there the night Frank and Alice were attacked.'
Snape turned to her, the little colour in his face draining swiftly. 'You can't possibly think I had any part of that....'
'What I think isn't the issue. Dumbledore presented your evidence to the Wizengamot as that of an anonymous spy, in order to protect you – only when Karkaroff accused you did he name you. But there are others who always thought his trust in you was misplaced. And the recorded facts note only that you were there the night Frank and Alice were attacked, and that you were the only one to walk out of that house with mind and body intact.'
'Are you accusing me, Professor McGonagall?' Snape asked in a fractured voice.
'No,' McGonagall said. 'I'm asking you what happened that night. Your information was invaluable to the Order; you saved lives and helped us turn the tide. You knew so much, and yet... how could you possibly have not known about the attack planned on the Longbottoms? You can't have done; if you had you would have warned us. But you didn't warn us, so you couldn't have known. But if you didn't know... how did you get there first?'
Happy new year everyone! Thanks and best wishes to all my reviewers. As you may note, I've revamped the story slightly, polishing it up with HTML and changing a couple of errors, nothing major. I'm currently struggling over chapter 6, having hit a slight case of writer's block, but should have it sorted soon. Chapter Five should be up soon – hope you enjoy it. Thanks again for all your warmth and encouragement *hugs*