This story was written for the fabulous LJ fest HP_beholder, and, as always, my marvellous beta Kelly Chambliss improved it in so many ways.

All details on the various creatures in this story are based on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander, 2001, Obscurus Books, 18a Diagon Alley, London, in association with Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic Press.

Without Mr. Scamander's classic and unsurpassed work this story could not have been written. Any errors, however, remain my own. The experiment described in this story must never be attempted in a non-fictional environment.

Hogwarts, August 1st, 1991

"…no other option but to comply with these plans, however unpleasant they are both for my esteemed colleague and myself."

The diction was faultless; the voice – Minerva had to admit it – rather beautiful; the little bow in her direction that accompanied the words my esteemed colleague was executed to perfection. There weren't many men who could manage such a Regency-period movement without looking like a fool. And the way he leaned against the fireplace was the height of exquisite, elegant, insufferable arrogance.

Damn Severus Snape.

And to add insult to injury, he was right. Spending several weeks at Hogwarts during August was unpleasant; Minerva had hoped for some time in a truly sunny climate – the South of France, say, or Italy. She might still get it, but just for a week at the most. Not nearly enough to soak up enough warmth and light for the long winter months.

He was also right in that it was unavoidable. Minerva had gone over the facts time and again, hoping to avoid her current plight. But it all led up inexorably to today's meeting.

Nicolas's Owl was what had started it. As soon as Albus had shown her the parchment – and that was strange enough: the correspondence between those two was the private pleasure of two old friends – she had realized that something was seriously amiss.

If it is at all possibly to spare me some time amidst your manifold duties at Hogwarts, Perenelle and I would greatly appreciate it if you could come to see us somewhat urgently. There's a small matter we'd like discuss – and, of course, Perenelle looks forward to cooking for a guest as appreciative as yourself.

A pleasant enough invitation, but for that one word. Urgently. Minerva had met Nicolas several times, and she knew that to him urgency was what potty training was to her: while she knew perfectly well that at some point it must have played an important part in her life, since one didn't reach adulthood without the experience, she couldn't for the life of her remember what it felt like. So if Nicolas used the word urgently, there was only one thing to be done, and Albus did just that. He went the same evening, leaving Minerva with a decided sense of unease and some amused thoughts as to whether Perenelle would truly be pleased at having to provide a dinner at a mere hour's notice.

On his return, Albus had given her a succinct summary, still making light of the situation. There had been an attempted burglary. Nicolas and Perenelle had both been out, and the burglar or burglars hadn't managed to get past Nicolas's safety wards. Still, they were worried – understandable, Minerva had thought, given their age. Albus had told her gleefully how Nicolas had assured him he was still strong and powerful enough to deal with a burglar, but Perenelle had been quite upset. Minerva had briefly considered pointing out that Nicolas's ideas of dealing with a burglar himself might well have caused Perenelle's anxiety, but she had thought better of it. Albus himself wasn't young by anyone's standards, and some things were best left unsaid.

Then a second Owl had followed, resulting in some prolonged absences of Albus. And then they had, all five of them, Pomona, Filius, Hagrid, Severus and herself, been called back to Hogwarts for this special meeting. Albus had set the facts before them with his usual clarity.

Nicolas feared the burglary was aimed at the Philosopher's Stone. If the Stone were stolen, the consequences would be highly unwelcome for Nicolas and Perenelle. But if the followers of You-Know-Who were behind this, and both Nicolas and Albus feared such might be the case, it could be disastrous. No Death-Eater would bother to steal the Stone, Albus pointed out, without at least some idea of what to do with it. It might mean that some part of You-Know-Who had survived, or an Elixir of Life would be useless. And if that hypothetical surviving part could think, plan, and give commands, then the situation threatened the whole Wizarding World. Therefore, the Stone had to be protected, and there was only one place safer than Gringotts.

Hagrid had collected the Stone from Gringotts, Albus told them, combining the trip with his visit to young Harry Potter. At that point the meeting had run slightly out of order, as all teachers wanted to hear about Potter. All, that was, except Severus, who had leant against the chimney looking bored beyond words. Still, Minerva would be willing to bet a tidy sum that he had soaked up and remembered every snippet of information.

Finally, Albus had called the meeting to order, and they had established a procedure. The entrance to the hiding place would be on the third floor, it being unused for any teaching purposes and not frequented by students. Pomona would provide a giant Devil's Snare. After that, there was an ingenious set of safety measures. While a capable wizard might manage to get past one, or even two of them, it would take a conspiracy of men to get past all three. And a conspiracy of men would have some difficulty getting unseen into Hogwarts.

Filius would set up the charmed keys. He alone knew the countercharm that would allow entrance, and without that, it would take a player like Dangerous Dai Llewellyn to catch the right key – if the intruder had thought of bringing a broom in the first place.

Minerva would set up the Giant Wizard Chess, and again, she would be the only one who knew how to disarm it. And, as Albus pointed out, he himself would have a hard job getting past it – Minerva had beaten him often enough.

Severus would produce the potion that enabled one to pass through the fire – and the riddle to go with it.

Finally, Albus would set up the hiding place for the Stone, and he assured them that it would be impossible for any intruder to take it. At that point Pomona had sensibly asked whether Nicolas would still be able to get at it – otherwise the whole set-up would rather defy the purpose. But Albus had assured them that Nicolas, if accompanied by the guardians, would be able to take the Stone. Because he would want it for the right reasons, he added somewhat mysteriously.

Thus, even if someone would manage to get into Hogwarts, even if that someone would manage to cast an Imperius on one of the guardians, he would still not be able to reach the final hiding place. And even if, by some twist of fortune, he managed that, he would not be able to take the Stone.

Pomona and Filius would prepare their contributions and put them in place after Minerva and Severus had finished theirs. Hagrid's contribution would be a very special creeter, as he put it, that would guard the entrance. And that was where the problem lay. He still had to fetch the creature, a fact over which he apologised profusely, repeating several times that he had wanted to do things differently, had prepared for another way.

So Albus suggested that Minerva and Severus would prepare their contributions and guard the Stone until all safety measures, including the creature, were in place. In Minerva's case, on-site preparations were necessary, and it was clearly unthinkable to leave the protection of the Stone to just one person. Severus could use the school's Potion's lab; he didn't have definite plans for the holidays; he was the unavoidable choice.

She was going to spend two weeks at least with that insufferable Slytherin, who would be very polite while at the same time making it perfectly clear how unpleasant he found the situation. It was not to be borne! The exasperated cry, Minerva thought, of one who's forced by Fate or Albus (the distinction was moot) to do just that.

Hogwarts, August 4th

Dear Madam, [Minerva wrote]

Thank you for your letter. While I fully understand your son's feelings towards his pet, I'm afraid the School Rules are quite strict in this respect. As mentioned in my previous letter, students are allowed to bring an owl, a cat, or a rat. This means, unfortunately, that your son's marmoset cannot accompany him.

And why anyone in their right mind would want to keep a marmoset at home was beyond her. Besides, what could be clearer than a cat, an owl, or a rat? Next thing you knew, someone would ask permission to bring a pet dragon.

Still, the parents' letters had to be answered, and things could be worse. If she had to work during her holidays, at least the letters were something that practically wrote themselves after all these years.

And the work with Severus, too, wasn't as bad as she had feared. He had turned out to be quite pleasant company, surprisingly enough. Well, it was not completely surprising. His presence at the High Table had always been a source of entertainment. His spot-on remarks often made her smile, and their banter and bickering over House Points and Quidditch matches gave her quite a frisson. A frisson caused by sparring with a mind as sharp as her own, as she had told herself time and again when Severus's voice or presence caused all sorts of reactions.

No, not 'all sorts of', that was a highly inaccurate description. What she felt was arousal, a feeling that she certainly knew well enough to recognize. But this was arousal caused by an intellectual challenge. By the pleasure of a sharp debate. After all, she was hardly the kind of woman who fancied younger men (but it was funny how often one forgot Severus wasn't a contemporary – his experiences with the Dark side had made him older than his years). And besides, he was the archetype of the Arrogant Slytherin.

For that very reason, she had had her reservations about working with him when he was appointed Head of House. But in the year that followed Severus's promotion, she had found that their collaboration brought not just the inevitable annoyance, but quite a bit of entertainment, too. Oh, they argued frequently. Severus was just as arrogant as she'd known he would be. But somehow it gave her energy, these arguments. It was always fun. A challenge. It had made her look at Severus in quite a different way …

Minerva picked up another scroll of parchment and wrote,

Dear Sir,

I'm glad to hear you and your wife have such excellent memories of your years in Ravenclaw. I can readily understand that you would like your daughter to have the same experience. It is not, however, possible to guarantee her place in any house at this point. Hogwarts has never made exceptions with regards to the Sorting Ceremony.

While she made her quill write a standard, polite ending instead of And how did you get into Ravenclaw, asking terminally stupid questions like this?, she thought of the first dinners she'd had in Severus's company.

She had fully expected to experience the downside of his ready wit: the curt, dismissive way he had of stopping a conversation he found boring; of snubbing a colleague who was guilty of nothing more than making an effort to include him. True, he had never stopped or snubbed her (he had survived the years of You-Know-Who; there was nothing wrong with his sense of self-preservation), but she had seen it happen often enough to believe him quite incapable of sustained politeness.

It was what she disliked most about him, and what had made the idea of their joint guardianship so irksome. She, too, found several colleagues exceedingly annoying. She deplored the fact that too often the High Table conversation was merely a succession of clichés and old jokes, or a whinge on students' misbehaviour. But they all had to work together, and it couldn't be done without a certain amount of forbearance and politeness. Why didn't the bloody man make more of an effort?

But these last few days it was as if she was seeing a different Severus. Sharp and entertaining as always, but instead of the stilted conversation she had expected (for how long could one speak of last year's Quidditch competition?) they had chatted easily on all sort of things.

She had prepared a list of talking points for their first dinner. His now aborted plans for the holiday. What he liked to do in his leisure hours. A question on recent developments in potions. But somehow a brief outline of his plans for research in Montpellier had led to a discussion of the Provence, which they found they both loved, and from there … Time had flown.

And now, two days later, Minerva positively looked forward to dinner. Just two more hours. She picked up her quill and reached for the next scroll.

Dear Augusta,

Thank you for your letter. I am looking forward to seeing your grandson at Hogwarts. And Neville must have been overjoyed, indeed, to get a broom for his eleventh birthday. Still, I'm afraid he cannot bring it with him;

[Minerva interrupted her writing and gazed out of the window. The broom practice field looked just so – Hagrid kept the grounds beautifully. And there was Argus, scuttling towards the castle, Mrs. Norris in his arms. He looked angry. Not Peeves, please, not Peeves again. As to Augusta … would being old school chums allow her to write "as you know perfectly well, and must you be as annoying as you were at seventeen"? No, better not.] as you know, first years are not allowed to bring a broom.

Yours sincerely,
Minerva McGonagall
Deputy Headmistress of Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry

Only eight more to go.