Chapter One

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It took precisely ten seconds for the spiral staircase to carry a body upwards to the inner door to the Headmaster's office.The Deputy Headmistress spent it breathing deeply.

She employed a relaxation exercise that was one of a number of useful things she had taken from her brief tenure with the Auror corps along with a curse scar that ran from just under her left breast to the curve of her hip and pained her when it rained.

As she heard the deadbolt slide from the Headmaster's office door, she gathered her notebook to her chest like a Goblin-silver shield.

"Professor McGonagall," intoned the dark figure that stood behind the large claw-footed desk.

It had been more than a week since she had seen him at the brief gathering in the Great Hall to pass the castle's wards to the newly appointed Headmaster, and she was startled by how much deeper the shadows below his eyes had become in that short time. She knew he had ever been plagued by insomnia—she had met him in the hallways often enough during her own sleepless vigils—but she had never seen him look so tired. His skin appeared to be stretched like a too-thin canvas across the rails and plains of his face, and for a second, she thought it was splitting when he opened his mouth to speak.

"You have information to impart. I have things to do. Please say what you must, and do it quickly."

His imperiousness steeled her nerves, and she strode toward the desk, letting the notebook fall onto its surface with a crack.

"I have here several items pertaining to the running of the castle which need your attention. The first," she said, flipping to the appropriate page in the notebook, "is the appointment of a house-elf to serve you."

"I do not need a house-elf."

"You're going to clean your own quarters, then, are you?"

The slight twitch of his shadowed upper lip gratified her, and she almost expected him to return with one of his bone-dry ripostes, until she remembered that such pleasant games between them had been buried along with the former Headmaster.

Snape said, "Assign one to come in the morning to change the linens and clear up the private rooms after I have left. It should not take more than ten minutes. Under no circumstances is it to touch the office."

Minerva looked at him for second to see if he would look away first; when he only continued to stare at her, she took her quill from her breast pocket and made a quick notation in the notebook.

She said, "There is the question of staff schedules. You have not yet told me which evenings the Professors Carrow plan to take off during the week, so I have been unable to schedule other staff for evenings off."

"Amycus and Alecto will come and go as they please."

"Then how am I to ensure we have adequate staff coverage at meals and for evening patrols?"

"I am certain you will think of something."

She refused to blink.

She said, "The third item concerns the wards."

"You have already given them to me, have you not, Minerva?"

"I have. However, they require renewing."

"Surely you and Filius are capable of casting the necessary charms."

"The supplementary ones against Apparition, yes, and those protections on specific, sensitive areas of the castle. But I'm speaking of the foundational wards."

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