Minerva finished dressing as quickly as she could, her hands moving automatically whilst her brain hastily searched for a solution.
Think! There must be something you can do, some way of getting him away…
The Order already decided that the Floo network was no longer an option. Umbridge was growing increasingly paranoid and, in Minerva's (admittedly biased) opinion, rather unstable when it came to office intruders, real or otherwise.
If she could manage a half decent protection charm she wouldn't have to worry, Minerva thought smugly as she fastened her blouse.
The recently discovered tunnel that led directly into Hogsmeade was also out: Honeydukes would be open and Remus couldn't risk being spotted trying to escape through the shop. Thanks to his having taught at the school for a year there was too much chance he'd be recognised. One innocent remark in the Three Broomsticks could then very easily find its way back to Umbridge.
The only possibility that Minerva could come up with was the Shrieking Shack. That was always deserted, and was beyond the apparation barriers that protected the school from any unwanted intruders. But even so, she would still have to get Remus unseen through the castle, across the grounds and down to the Whomping Willow.
Although… there was that staircase behind the panelling on the sixth floor. That would take them down as far as the library annexe. And the Willow itself was on the far side of the castle, beyond the greenhouses and the vegetable patch. If they made it as far as the greenhouses there was no chance of being seen from the school, but that meant leaving now, since the greenhouses would be busy with students as soon as breakfast was over.
On the other hand it was a risky plan at best, and rushing off without thinking things through properly might very well land them in serious trouble.What should we do?
As she slid her arms into the sleeves of her robes, Minerva found herself wishing that Albus had not been forced to leave. Through all her years of teaching he'd always been a constant, like the mountains into which the foundations of the castle had been hewn: reliable, solid and unchanging. For all his irritating habits – and there were several – he could at least be relied upon for sensible, if cryptic, advice when it was really needed.
She glanced automatically at the mirror to check that her appearance was satisfactory, straightened her collar and then swept out of the bathroom.
Remus was waiting for her in the bedroom, all of his earlier playfulness now gone. Like Minerva, he knew that the work of the Order was of the utmost importance and must without a doubt be prioritised above their own rather selfish pleasure. They'd been lucky enough to be able to manage both through the last few weeks, but it was looking increasingly as though their luck had run out.
Perhaps this is the last time in a long while that I'll come home and find him waiting for me.
It was an extremely unwelcome thought. Lately Remus was the only friend she had to keep her sane, now that Umbridge had cut off most of her contact with the outside world. Pushing aside such doubts, Minerva quickly outlined her plan to Remus, who agreed that leaving now seemed to be the best option they had and quickly gathered his things.
Minerva's rooms opened off a fairly private stretch of corridor. In one direction, a sharp curve in the passage let to the main staircase. The Gryffindor students were noisily making their way downstairs to breakfast and Minerva could distinctly make out the sound of Lee Jordan angrily complaining about yet another detention from Dolores Umbridge.
I really must tell them to be careful of what they say. Or at least warn them to keep their voices down.
With Remus right behind her, Minerva turned the other way along the corridor. This route would normally take her to one of the back staircases, a favourite amongst the staff since it offered easy access to both the kitchens and the main staff wing where the rest of the faculty resided but too easily watched to be safe for Remus. Instead she took a sharp left hand turn and led him past several storerooms to a disused classroom at the far end of the passage. The panels at the very rear of the room hid a spiral staircase that took them all the way down to the ground floor, emerging at an apparent dead end. The right password afforded a direct exit out behind the greenhouses.
Minerva checked to make sure that Remus was still behind her and then strode off across the dewy grass, wishing she'd put a little more thought into her choice of footwear. Her heels weren't particularly high but were still eminently unsuitable for the damp lawns. She hastened her step even more. It was a brisk morning and the cold was starting to creep insidiously through her robes. She hadn't thought about bringing a cloak, hadn't thought about hardly anything that morning, or so it seemed. She cursed herself for being so uncharacteristically careless.
Remus' urgent whisper cut through her musings. Seconds later she felt his hand grip her arm and yank her sideways into a narrow gap between Greenhouses Two and Three.
She opened her mouth to protest, and then shut it abruptly when she saw what his sharp eyes had spotted.
Dolores Umbridge was bustling across the lawn, her face red with exertion and her breathing heavy. A pink, fluffy garment danced just ahead of her, wheeling in circles and flipping exuberantly through the air, just out of the reach of Umbridge's grasping fingers. Behind the Headmistress hopped Filius Flitwick.
"I told him it was Wingardium Leviosa!" Flitwick was squeaking anxiously. "Something must have gone wrong with the spell."
"Well can't you make it stop?" Umbridge snapped impatiently.
"Normally, yes. But something seems to be wrong with my wand and with the recent, er, travel restrictions I haven't been able to get to London to see Ollivander about it."
Despite the seriousness of their situation, Minerva couldn't help but laugh. She knew Filius well enough to be perfectly sure that he could have retrieved Dolores' ghastly cardigan in a split second had he felt so inclined. Next to her Remus said nothing, but there was a definite hint of amusement in his expression.
As the pantomime on the lawn drew closer, Remus and Minerva slipped through the unlocked door into Greenhouse Two.
The only door to Greenhouse Two, as it turned out.
Minerva looked around hopelessly.
"Now what are we going to do?"