Nothing like the Sun
Chapter 7 – Catching Cats
Two weeks. The new school year was two weeks old, and Minerva had no idea how she had survived them. It felt like eons had passed, and then again, everything was still so new that she could hardly believe that she had made it through two weeks already.
It was not that she was not up to the job of being Headmistress of Hogwarts.
Heavens, Dumbledore had always spent so much time away from the school that she had often chided her old mentor because he left her all the work to do. For almost forty years, she had taken care of almost all the administrative work, had prepared and organised exams, scheduled the Quidditch matches, and discussed the meal plans with the kitchen house-elves. Minerva knew well how to run a school.
The staff stood behind her decisions. The parents, and, even more importantly, the students had accepted her as the new Headmistress. The ghosts obeyed to her orders, and the house-elves were fiercely loyal. It was as though the entire world had decided to make this as easy as possible for her, and that was exactly Minerva's problem.
In her own heart, she felt that she ought not to be the esteemed Headmistress of Hogwarts. Not now, at least. Minerva had always assumed that she would one day apply for the post, after Albus's retirement. Not after his murder. The way everyone welcomed and supported as Headmistress only enhanced how much they all missed Albus Dumbledore.
It had been odd to remain in the Great Hall and watch the new Deputy Headmaster Filius Flitwick guide the first-years into the school. Minerva had felt out of place on the throne-like Headmaster Chair at the high table, sitting quietly while tiny Filius had sorted the first-years into their Houses. And giving the traditional welcoming speech had been hell.
Minerva did not recall what she had said during that speech. Everyone had told her how very tactful her speech had been, how she had dedicated her work to the memory of Albus and yet given them new hope, and had promised the students that they would be safe in Hogwarts, safer than anywhere else in Britain…
Minerva did not remember a single word she had said. All she recalled was thinking 'I should not be the one to hold this speech' over and over again.
Now the new school-year was two weeks old already, and because it was a ridiculously beautiful autumn weekend and they needed something to keep their minds occupied, the teachers had voted to give the students an extra Hogsmeade Weekend. Minerva had readily agreed.
She had even accompanied Irma Pince on a stroll to the village, and had somewhat enjoyed the walk in the warm sunshine. Minerva had even smiled openly when she had spotted Hermione and Ron ahead of them, holding hands. She was glad that the two of them had finally gotten together; Merlin knew it had taken them long enough.
Now it was past ten o'clock in the evening and the students had returned to their Common Rooms, at least most of them. Minerva slowly walked back to her new office, taking a few detours to make one last round through the castle to round up the usual latecomers and send them off to their dormitories.
"Shh, be quiet! Oh, we'll be in so much trouble if anyone sees us..."
Minerva heard the whispered voice and hurried steps on the stairs, and suppressed another smile. The voice was Hermione's, and although the new Head Girl had loosened up considerably, apparently some things never changed.
"Just wait one more second," Ron replied, also whispering.
Minerva now saw them on the stairs and quickly stepped into an alcove behind a knight statue, trying to hide from the now-kissing young couple. She did not want to interrupt them, and knowing Hermione, the girl would certainly make sure that the two of them would soon return to the Gryffindor Common Room.
Ron and Hermione had in the meantime broken apart and smiled sheepishly, then they turned to hurry on towards the Gryffindor tower. Minerva retreated even further into the alcove to avoid being seen, and then her heart almost stopped.
She felt something warm and soft behind her, and before she could react, someone grabbed her from behind and a hand was clamped over her mouth. Minerva panicked at first, kicked against the statue in a futile effort to bring it down and create a commotion, and was rewarded by being lifted off her feet and dragged even deeper into the alcove. She forced herself to calm down and remember her Auror training years ago.
"Don't make a sound," Snape whispered into her ear. "It's only me."
Minerva stood still and relaxed to show that she had stopped reaching for the wand in her pocket. She nodded as much as was possible, trying to demonstrate that she had understood what he had said, and when she felt that Snape loosened his grip just a little bit she bit him hard in the hand and transformed into her cat shape.
The thing about catching cats is that they have, in a way, their own magic. Try holding on to a renitent feline some time – all of a sudden gentle paws turn into needle-sharp claws, and don't forget that cats are predators and have very pointy teeth.
Snape did not let go right away, but when the woman in his arms became a scratching and hissing feline she could slip from his grasp. Minerva landed on soft paws, spun around and immediately transformed back. It took her only a split second to draw her wand and point it at Snape.
He stood in the alcove, camouflaged by a Disillusionment Charm, but still clearly visibly if you knew where to look. Minerva noticed with grim satisfaction that his right hand was bleeding.
"Don't ever do that again," she hissed.
"I had to make sure you would not cry out with surprise. Did you have to pick just this very spot to hide from that display of puppy love? You should have told them off, and sent them on their way, like any proper teacher would have done."
"Your wand," Minerva demanded coldly.
Snape nodded, and moved slowly while he handed her his wand. Minerva was surprised to notice that he had carried it in his pocket. Apparently he had indeed not intended to hurt her.
Carefully watching Snape out of the corner of her eye, Minerva shot a glace to the end of the corridor. Ron and Hermione stood in front of the Fat Lady, kissing again, and had obviously not noticed a thing.
"That was close," Snape commented, "How very fortunate that love makes even the ever-perceptive Miss Granger blind to her surroundings."
"There is no need for that disparaging tone of voice. Personally, I believe that these two have been through enough already and deserve some happiness."
"At the very least, they are in the corridors past curfew. That is, say, 20 points from Gryffindor."
"You don't actually believe that you can still take points here?"
"It was worth a try."
Minerva bit her lip, furious with herself. The problem with her relationship with Snape was that they had always enjoyed this banter way too much. She had immediately reverted to the tradition of friendly bickering just because this was the one and only thing that still reminded her of the old days.
Snape massaged his injured hand. He had apparently also realised the absurdity of their situation, because when he spoke next his voice was more serious.
"You have not sealed my Blood Gate," he stated quietly. "I admit that I was surprised to find it still working."
"If you do indeed intend to pass information on to us, then you need a way to contact me. I imagine it would not be safe to use owls or Patronus messages."
Snape nodded, and Minerva was glad that he accepted her explanation for now. It sounded lame to her. There had been furious discussions in the Order, and just about everyone had advised her to close that gate. Minerva herself preferred not to think about why she had not done so. Maybe it was nothing but the fact that as long as she could believe that there might be something to Snape's tale, there was hope.
Hermione and Ron had by now disappeared through the portrait hole, and they were alone in the corridor. Minerva lifted Snape's Disillusionment Spell.
"So what can you tell me?"
"The Dark Lord has a new spy in the Ministry, in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. Her name is Mattingley – Weasley will know her, she came from Spain or Italy a few years ago and married an English wizard. Short, dark-haired, plump, sort of pretty... sadly she is not aware who she is working for, she actually believes that she is giving away information to a group who work against the Dark Lord. It might be worth a try feeding her deliberately wrong information..."
Minerva let all the information sink in, concentrating hard. Snape spoke quickly now, as though he too had realised they had already wasted precious time. Minerva did not interrupt him. She would need to remember every detail of this conversation, not only of the contents but also every aspect of how Snape acted, his facial expressions, and his tone of voice.
Anything could be a clue as to whether to believe him at all. She was not to be deluded by the fact that she had once considered this man a friend, and that she had almost enjoyed their short trial of strength a few minutes ago. She would listen, and analyse, and then decide what to do next.
A/N: Just a short chapter to get into the mood again... thank you so much for bearing with me during this long hiatus! This time I swear an Unbreakable Vow that there's more to come soon. Frank