Disclaimer: See Chapter 1
A/N: Many thanks to my betas, Septentrion and Sempra. Thanks also to everyone who has read and reviewed. It is much appreciated.
Hogwarts: five hundred years later.
The Headmaster was not looking forward to this in the slightest. 'Is everyone here?' he asked, glancing quickly around his office. The sooner everything was said and done, the sooner he could go down the pub.
Albus looked pointedly at two empty frames.
Tilting his head back, Headmaster Longbottom sighed heavily. 'What are they up to? This is imp—'
The rest of his sentence was drowned out by a cacophony of coughs, snorts and titters.
'You're new here, Augustus.' Phineas smiled kindly. 'So you should know that those two could never keep their hands off each other in life. I'm afraid death had little success in slowing them down.'
Such information, while interesting, was hardly relevant. 'I-I... Look,' he said. 'Look... I need you all to hear what I have to say.' He held out his hands in a plea for order. 'This is really important.'
'It had better be,' a silky voice said. 'I would resent having my afternoon... nap disturbed for anything trivial, Longbottom.'
Augustus tried not to shudder, but there was something about that voice—the way Severus Snape said his name as if it were something unpleasant stuck to his shoe—that made him feel like an errant first-year. 'And where is—?'
'Here, Augustus. Sorry I'm late.' Hermione entered Severus' frame looking rather flustered. She patted her hair, although it was a futile gesture, and sat in the second chair that had thoughtfully been painted in. Leaning towards her, Severus grinned and whispered something in her ear.
'Show some decorum. Please,' Albus grumbled.
Blushing, Hermione undid the two buttons that had been hurriedly fastened and put them in the correct button holes.
Augustus took a deep breath and tried again. 'Now—'
'Is this going to take all day?'
'PLEASE.' Augustus was fast reaching the end of his tether. 'This isn't easy for me, you know. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but—'
'Leaving us so soon?' Severus goaded, sneering down his long nose at the young man and earning an elbow in the ribs from Hermione. 'That would make you the shortest serving headmaster in Hogwarts' history.'
'No, Severus,' Augustus replied wearily, 'that will make me the last headmaster in Hogwarts' history.'
There was a stunned silence. Finally. 'I see I now have your undivided attention.'
The office door closed with a soft click, leaving the portraits to absorb the bombshell Augustus Longbottom had just dropped. By order of the Minister for Magic, Eljay XI, Hogwarts would cease to be a school at the end of the year. But worse was to come.
'No longer viable.' Minerva sighed. 'It seems time has passed us by.'
And indeed, things had moved on, outside, in the real world. With an ever-increasing number of Muggle-borns each year, the existence of the wizarding world could no longer be realistically concealed, and after much deliberation, the Wizengamot had repealed the Statutes of Secrecy. For the past hundred years or so, Hogwarts had been struggling to cope with the rising intake of these Muggle-borns, which had led to new, cross-culture schools able to accommodate Muggle technology being built. The sad fact was that no one wanted to send their kids to a draughty, antiquated castle in Scotland any longer.
'No respect for tradition,' said Phineas.
Hermione had been largely silent. 'It's more than that,' she said eventually. 'Even in my day, Muggle-borns didn't like giving up their music players and computers to come here. Imagine what it must be like now with all that-that neurotechnology.'
'I never thought I'd live to see the Statues of Secrecy revoked, though.' Dilys shook her head sadly.
'You didn't, dear.' Minerva turned to Albus. 'Can anything be done, do you think?'
'Such as? Some sort of rebellion?' He shrugged. 'We may just have to face it. Our purpose is to advise the incumbent Headmaster. If Hogwarts is sold, presumably that obligation is transferred to the new owner.'
'Yes, but, Albus, a Muggle?'
'And a Colonist, to boot,' Phineas added.
'There is little point speculating,' Severus said, 'until the sale goes through, and we learn more of this... American's plans for the castle.'
'So these are the famous talking heads of Hogwarts.' Barnum P. Rand III let out a low whistle as he looked around the Headmaster's office. He tried to count the paintings but gave up after a few minutes. 'Say, Augustus. Whadd'ya think they're worth?'
'Worth, Mr Rand?' Augustus replied, somewhat perplexed.
'Call me Randy. Yes, worth. In Eurodollars.'
'I've no idea.' Frowning, Augustus scratched his head. 'They've never been valued. They just appear, you see, when a Head dies.'
'It's really rather impolite, Augustus, to talk in front of someone as if they weren't there.' A murmur of agreement went around the portraits.
'So, they're unique, right?' Rand said, turning his back on her. 'And old. And they come with the school?'
'Well, how rude.'
'Yes, of course.' Augustus mouthed a 'sorry' to Minerva while offering a seat to his guest. 'They're there to give me the benefit of their experience...'
The portraits strained to listen as the two men talked rapidly... full-refurbishment... government grants... tax incentives... international standard golf course...
'I don't like the sound of this, Severus,' Hermione said, reaching for his hand.
'Neither do I.' Severus cleared his throat loudly. 'Excuse me. Would one of you... gentlemen kindly explain what is going on?'
Surprised at the interruption, Rand turned around. 'And you are? Or should I say, "were".' He chuckled at his own joke.
'Severus Snape. Mr Rand—'
'Call me Randy.'
'I'd rather not.'
'What my husband wishes to know, Mr Rand,' Hermione said hastily, sensing Severus' rising anger, 'as do the rest of us, is... What are your plans for this school?'
'We-ell, little lady, I don't suppose it would harm...' He took out what looked like a small, square piece of metal from his pocket.
To everyone's astonishment, a three-dimensional image appeared in mid-air.
'Muggles can do that?' Albus remarked. 'Without a wand?'
They stared at the plan, recognising the castle but little else.
'What are those little flags on poles for,' Phineas asked, intrigued. 'And where did the Quidditch pitch go?'
'Quidditch?' Rand frowned. 'Oh, that broomstick game.' He pointed to the map. 'That's where the eighteenth hole will be—after we demolish that old stadium, of course, and clear some of that woodland.' He grinned, looking distinctly pleased with himself.
'Golf? You're building a golf course?' Hermione asked incredulously.
'Do Muggles still play that?' Minerva shook her head. 'Well, I never.'
'Please enlighten us, do,' said Albus. 'What on earth is golf?'
'It was such a long time ago...' Minerva sighed. 'I don't know if you remember, but my great-uncle invented a game for his Squib son, which was all the rage for a while.'
'You don't mean Smack the Snitch?'
'Yes, that's the one,' Minerva replied. 'Some Muggle must have seen it being played, and the next thing you know, everyone was at it—only with a ball, naturally—and little sticks. Uncle Archie should have patented it...'
While the merits of golf were being discussed, Severus had been staring at the sailing boats tacking merrily around the lake. 'Have you consulted the Merpeople about that?' he asked. 'Not to mention the Giant Squid?'
'Squid?' Rand spluttered. 'Do you mean to say there's a monster in that lake—and people? Why wasn't I told?'
'We hadn't got that far—'
'And what about the creatures in the Forbidden Forest?' Phineas asked.
'They'll be protected.'
'And what about the elves?' Hermione threw in. 'What about the ghosts? What about us?'
'Everyone, please.' Augustus appealed for order once more as the Heads vociferously expressed their concerns. 'Not all the details have been ironed out yet, but the Elves' place here has been assured by the minister. As for the rest... Perhaps Mr Rand could—?'
'I, too, would be interested to learn what this... Muggle has planned for my school.'
All eyes turned as Salazar Slytherin entered Phineas' frame. In deference, Phineas stood up and offered the founder his seat.
'Why, yes.' Paying no heed to Salazar, Hogwarts' prospective purchaser got to his feet, smiling at Hermione. 'To answer your question, the decor here is pretty depressing for the luxury hotel complex and spa my consortium is planning. Anything valuable will be sold off—although I might keep you.' He winked at her. 'Great hair.'
Minerva gasped. 'Sell us off? You can't be serious.
'Hmmm...' Salazar steepled his fingers and appeared to give the matter much thought. 'Assuming you could unstick us from the walls,' he said, 'selling the portraits would be fruitless. We are able to come and go at will, you see. If we did not like our new, er, lodgings, we would simply go elsewhere.'
'Is that right?' Rand turned to his host. 'Can't they be contained?'
Augustus shrugged. 'Well... there are charms...'
'There you go.'
Hermione gripped Severus' hand tightly and whispered, 'He means to separate us.' Glancing at Phineas' frame, she noticed a shadowy figure hovering near the door. 'Hmm... I've had an idea. Keep him talking until I get back.'
Severus looked at her questioningly as she left the room but did as he was told. 'What do you have planned for the interior, Mr Rand?'
'A-ha... Get a load of this...'
The 3-D architectural plan opened up to show the swimming pool, saunas, indoor tennis courts and hotel accommodation that were being proposed. The portraits stared in abject horror as Rand gave his presentation. To be fair, Augustus, too, looked a little green around the gills as the plans for the Great Hall were revealed, but was saved from commenting on it by the appearance of a house-elf. The Headmaster bent to listen and nodded.
'It seems rumours have reached the kitchen,' Augustus said. 'Please excuse me. I shouldn't be long.' The elf took his hand and they both vanished.
'Do continue, Mr Rand,' said Albus. 'This is absolutely fascinating.'
'Yes,' said Salazar. 'And perhaps you could also explain how you propose to override the castle's defences.'
'Glad you mentioned that...' Rand continued to wax lyrical for a further fifteen minutes during which time Hermione returned, looking grim but determined.
Severus knew that look. 'What have you done, Hermione?'
'Asked a friend for help,' she replied. 'Just watch.'
A few moments later, there was a soft tap on the door. Rand turned his head and immediately straightened up as the most entrancing woman he had ever laid eyes on entered the room. Porcelain skin, straight black hair and blood-red lips, she seemed to glide towards him.
'Er, um... Hi. I'm Randy,'
'So I've heard.' The vision of loveliness extended her hand. 'Elizabeth Cavendish.' She smiled slightly, revealing bone-white teeth. 'Astronomy Professor. Headmaster Longbottom has been delayed, unfortunately, so I'm to escort you from the premises—the castle has a nasty habit of playing tricks on the unwary, particularly after dark.'
Rand glanced at the window. Dusk had already fallen, and he hadn't noticed. 'Fine by me.' He took the proffered hand, which was unbelievably cold, and shivered. 'Elizabeth Cavendish... I don't remember seeing your name on the staff list.'
'Ah, no. I'm-um, filling in for Professor Weasley while she's on maternity leave. Now,' the lady gestured airily towards the door. 'Shall we? It is a beautiful evening for a walk.'
Compressing his blueprint down and slipping it into his pocket, Rand followed without looking back. 'I'm staying in Hogsmeade. Would you care to join me for dinner?'
'That sounds delightful...'
As the door closed behind them, the portraits let out a collective breath.
'Hermione... Was that...?' Severus stared at his wife.
Hermione raised her chin defiantly. 'Yes.'
'You set a vampire on a Muggle?'
'You set Betty the Bloodthirsty on a Muggle?'
'He was going to split us up!' Hermione sighed. 'Oh, don't look at me like that. Betty's been on plasma substitute for years. She'll just give him a bit of a fright, that's all.'
Memories of a bushy-haired young girl setting his robes on fire came flooding back. 'You're terrifying, you know that?'
The shade of Hermione Granger, who in life had sent Dolores Umbridge to the centaurs without so much as a dent to her conscience, merely snorted. Shaking his head, Severus gazed in open admiration at his wife, his best friend and lover, the woman who had stood by his side for the best part of five centuries and who was still prepared to fight for him if she had to.
'How on earth did you find her?'
'That would be my doing, Severus.' Betty entered Phineas' frame and perched on the arm of his chair. 'I always know the whereabouts of my counterpart, and she is most keen to help in any way she can.' She laughed in delight as the former heads of Hogwarts burst into a spontaneous round of applause.
'Well done, my dear,' said Albus. 'Well done, Hermione. Though I fear we haven't heard the last of this.'
'No,' Phineas agreed. 'But Hermione has bought us some time. Forewarned is forearmed. We can make plans, organise an escape route if necessary. They'll have to find us to freeze us.'
'I've spoken to the elves, too,' Hermione added. 'And we have their support.'
'Excellent.' Albus beamed, rubbing his hands together. 'This is just like old times. Now, this is how I suggest we proceed...'
Snaking an arm around Hermione's waist, Severus pulled her closer and nuzzled her neck. 'Now that's sorted—at least for the moment—do you think they'd miss us if we sneaked off?'
Hermione giggled and kissed his cheek. 'Probably, but I think I've done my bit for now.' Taking his hand, she pulled him out of his chair. 'And after all that excitement, I could do with a nice, um, nap.'
'Bossy witch,' Severus growled, following her out of the room. 'Remind me never to get on the wrong side of you.'
'After all this time, I hardly think that's likely...'