Owls and Musings

Chapter 1

The young woman walked along the road to Hogwarts from the village of Hogsmeade. Normally a pleasant walk during the early summer, this particular stroll was full of anxiety for the witch. Was she going to be able to convince the headmistress of her tidings? Would the portrait back her up? She continued to walk along, the sun dappling the lane through the trees that lined the road, her summer robes flowing behind her in the breeze. The students were all gone now for the summer break. It had been many years since she had last walked this route to the castle. As she approached the gates, she could see that the Aurors were still in residence.

"Esmerelda Scott," she announced herself. " I have an appointment with the Headmistress."

The Auror in charge checked his list and made a mark with his quill. He gave her a small smile."You're expected, Miss," he said, opening the gate to let her in.

"Thank you."

She started up the pathway to the castle looking around her as she walked. The summer air danced over the lawns and in the distance she saw the white mausoleum by the lake. Promising herself she would make a proper visit to the grave, she entered the front doors and headed up the marble stairs, soaking in the castle atmosphere like a long needed draught of elixir. Aye, she did belong here, she felt.

She approached the gargoyle guarding the hidden stairs to the head's office. "Newtons." He sprang to one side and she stepped on the spiral stairs letting them draw her upwards to the headmistress' door. Taking a deep breath to steel herself against the oncoming conversation, she lifted the brass doorknocker and let it fall.

"Enter," came the muffled voice from within. She opened the door to a room that was bright with summer sun. Most of the portraits, including Dumbledore's behind the desk, appeared to be sleeping; she could even hear some snoring. She smiled as she approached the open arms of her Aunt.

"Esme! I was so glad to get your message; I haven't seen you in ages. To what do I owe this pleasure?" They moved to a pair of chairs by an open window looking out over the lawn. A fresh breeze stirred the summer air; a tea service already awaited them.

Esme smiled and accepted a cup. "What? Do I need a reason to see my favorite Auntie and wish her condolences on her recent loss?"

Minerva McGonagall nearly choked on the sip she was taking. "I am your only Aunt, as you well know – you impertinent chit." Her face relaxed. "But I thank you," she said, inclining her head slightly towards her niece. "Now, what is up that you insisted must be done in my office?"

Esme took a sip and set her cup back down on the side table. "Have you found a new transfiguration teacher yet?" she started off.

"I don't even know if the governors will keep the school open next term, much less filling the vacant positions." The older woman sighed into her cup as she relaxed into her chair as well.

"True," she acknowledged. "But, if they did – would you consider me for the job?"

"Of course! You were the best student I ever had in transfiguration. One of the few who ever received an Outstanding on their O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s."

"Aye, mum always said it ran in the family as well as your Animagus capabilities," Esme mused.

"You still transform?" Minerva asked curiously.

"On occasion." Esme let her features blur and a large Eagle Owl sat on the chair. She transformed back and reached for her teacup.

"Very good. I always liked your form, quite practical at times. But, as I said before, I don't even know if the governors will keep the school open this year. And if they do, how many students will return."

Esme sat still a moment then stood up to pace around the office, twirling a ring on her finger.

"What if I gave you and the governors some assurance that if a Death Eater attack were imminent for the school I could give you enough warning to get the students to safety."

Minerva started out of her chair, fury mixed with apprehension in the gaze she threw at her niece.

"Don't tell me…"

"Me? No, Auntie, put your mind at ease – I am not a Death Eater. But I have a very good… friend … who is and can get word to me. In fact…" she turned towards the headmistress, "…you know him pretty well yourself."

"I don't know…" she started. Then as a certain niggling thought entered her head, she gasped, "Snape."

Nodding, Esme was impressed her Aunt had caught on so quickly.

Her Aunt looked stricken. "No, Esme, don't do it. Do you know what he has done?" she cried, pointing at the portrait behind her desk. "He killed Albus. He used the killing curse."

All the portraits were awake and listening, now. Esme heard rustlings and murmurings around her. She darted a pitying smile towards her Aunt. "There were extenuating circumstances." This caused a mild uproar among the denizens of the paintings. Albus, however, merely nodded within his frame. She saw Phineas Nigellus cast a calculated glance in Dumbledore's direction.

"Extenuating circumstances!" Minerva's voice rose, nearing the screech level. "What extenuating circumstances?" Fury was truly evident in her voice now.

"Listen to her, Minerva," said a kindly voice near her Aunt, stopping her in her tracks.

McGonagall whirled towards the portrait of Dumbledore. "Albus, what are you saying? Am I to trust her?"

"Yes. Trust her and her information. Listen to her story, it is vital you believe her."

"But Albus, -- Snape?" she pleaded with the portrait.

"Listen Minerva, please," his gaze moved to the younger woman. " Tell her from the beginning, Esme"

"That far back? All right, it might be necessary at that. Have a seat, Auntie, this may take a while." She settled in across from her Aunt.

"About thirteen years ago, I met Severus in Diagon Alley."

"Thirteen years ago? But I was there when you were introduced to the Order last year. You acted as if you had just met him at that meeting!" McGonagall sputtered.

"That's what you were supposed to assume, Auntie. Let me continue," she said. " I was in London to do some shopping and had stopped in at Flourish and Blotts to indulge my passion for used, rare books…"

The young man moved into the next room of rare books at Flourish and Blotts. Not a handsome man, he appeared slightly older than his real age – an advantage when you were teaching students not much younger than yourself. His black hair was worn long to his shoulders and he wore his preferred black frock coat under his equally black wizard robes. He wasn't looking for any particular book this time, but he wanted to see if anything new had come in over the previous school term. This room housed used books that were acquired from estate auctions and several prominent wizards had died recently. He was hoping to find a hidden treasure among the flotsam.

As he started his perusal of the titles on the shelves he barely registered the fact that there was another person in the room with him. They were on the other side of the room in any case, weren't they? As he thought this, his eye caught a title he had been looking for. Eureka! His hand reached for the book only to have it blocked by someone else.

"Oh, I'm sorry! Were you interested in this, as well?" a soft voice said.

He looked over to discover that the other occupant of the room was now standing near him and was decidedly female. He took refuge in his patented sneer.

"Yes, I was. Why are you?" Now why did I ask that?

"Research. I'm a general research associate attached to the Ministry and that book has been on my personal 'seek and obtain' list for about three years," she said as she grinned up at him. She was a tad short, barely over five feet if he was any judge. She was on the pleasingly plump side and was wearing Muggle jeans and a summer jumper under her dark blue ministry robes. Her hair - a dark mahogany colour - hung past her waist in a thick braid. The bespectacled face was friendly, freshly scrubbed without the artificiality of makeup. "You look vaguely familiar to me," she murmured. "What year did you leave Hogwarts?"

A bit nonplussed he answered, "Seventy-six."

"Ah, that's it. I was seventy-eight." She looked at him more keenly. "Severus Snape?"

"Correct."

He was startled when she stuck out her hand. "Esmerelda Scott." When he didn't shake her hand she dropped it, but did not frown. "Look, how much is it worth to you to have this book today."

He shrugged, and she went on. "I mean to say, I am willing to share possession. It's very rare – as I am sure you know – but I definitely need to use it as background to my research."

"As do I." He narrowed his eyes as he crossed his arms and looked down at her. "What are you proposing?" Why am I encouraging her? I should just take the book and leave!

"We split the cost – it's 40 galleons – and we share," she said as she shrugged.

Snape considered the proposal while gazing silently at her for a moment longer. It was obvious his silence was making her uncomfortable. As he gazed at her he noticed that the colour of her eyes behind the spectacles were green – almost olive in hue. He really could use the text… just as she opened her mouth to continue he raised a hand to cut her off.

"Fine, I accept your proposal." His face smoothed out into, what was for him, a grin. Bloody green eyes… he mused …get to me every time.

"Good," she nodded. "And if you buy me dinner, I'll let you have the first crack at it!" she grinned back.

Snape sighed, not such an easy proposal after all. Well, maybe I can get rid of her quickly.

He agreed to the dinner and after paying for the book they headed over to the Leaky Cauldron for some pub food.

Somehow, during the conversation, he had decided that she wasn't half bad. He discovered that she had broken school records for the most outstanding O.W.L.s – fourteen – and N.E.W.T.s – eight; that she took summers off from her ministry researches to pursue her music studies and that she was one of the youngest transfiguration experts in the country.

"That talent is familial," she stated, sipping at her glass of wine.

"How so?" he asked as he topped up both of their cups.

"I believe you work with my Aunt," he had already told her of his teaching post at their old school.

"Your Aunt?" he thought a second " Not…"

"Professor McGonagall, aye." Her Scottish brogue had intensified over the evening. He had found it somewhat charming.

"Is your Aunt?" he looked askance.

She chuckled. "Now you know why my academics were so good; couldn't let the family down and all that. It was a bloody nuisance, to tell you the truth. Even worse was having her as Head of House. I couldn't get away with anything!"

They continued talking about trivialities for quite sometime until she finally noticed the hour.

"I better get home before I turn into a pumpkin." She rose from her seat, holding out her hand – this time he rose and shook it. "Severus, thank you for the meal and conversation."

"It was my pleasure, Miss Scott." And the odd thing was, it truly had been. "I'll owl you the book in a month?"

"No hurry. Enjoy it and let me know what you think." She gathered up her things and headed for the apparition point at the back of the bar, gave him a smile and Disapparated.

Snape was amazed. He had just had an enjoyable, companionable evening with a woman who was an intellectual equal, and a Gryffindor at that. The last time that had happened had been in school with his potions partner, Lily Evans. Best not to think of that, too many bad memories. He drained the last of his wine and after paying Tom, Apparated back to Hogsmeade.