The gargoyles sprung aside at her touch, which meant the Headmaster was expecting her. (She tried not to remember how they used to do so while she was a familiar occupant of his quarters.) She had wrestled her hair into a braided chignon and worn her best forest green robes. She was crisp and presentable and there was no reason to be alarmed—Tonks had promised, in no uncertain terms.
As the gargoyles deposited her on the stair landing, she heard a cacophony of angry voices. An altercation, perhaps, if she could still hear them through the muffling charm. She delivered three sharp raps on the Headmaster’s door and the voices stilled.
The door swung open, and she froze.
No fewer than seventeen people populated Severus Snape’s office, their eyes trained on the entrant. Even the portraits did not spare her their scrutiny. Save for Albus, who, as usual, was affecting slumber.
Hermione Granger, proud Gryffindor for most of her life, knew an urge to retreat and run. Which she hastily stifled.
Silence—her best defence in the circumstances—mantled the office.
Until, that is, Professor McGonagall spoke.
“Professor,” she managed, smiling weakly.
McGonagall—chest heaving, wand in hand, lips pulled into a taut, angry line—crossed the room and laid a reassuring hand on her shoulder. Whipping around, McGonagall’s addressed the figure in black behind the ornate desk.
“Severus. Absolutely not. Anyone but her.”
“I don’t believe we have the luxury of choice,” he responded levelly, reclining into his chair with cool insouciance. His eyes flickered to the witch flanking his left—sharing, she observed with some bewilderment, his desk. “Do we, Miss Tilbury?”
She straightened her cloche hat—a lurid pink which reminded Hermione most uncomfortably of Dolores Umbridge. “I’m afraid not.”
Nonplussed and not quite grasping the situation, Hermione opened her mouth to speak, but stopped short when she felt McGonagall’s grip on her arm tighten.
“Severus,” McGonagall interposed sharply. “She doesn’t yet know. You cannot possibly—”
Snape held up a hand to stop her. “Miss Tilbury,” he rumbled, inclining his head. “By all means.”
The raptorial glint in Tilbury’s eyes was difficult to miss. “The Confederation thanks you for your cooperation, Headmaster.”
And then Hermione felt the weight of Tilbury’s gaze roving over her face, not unlike a predator examining its quarry. She fought the urge to squirm.
“Verena Tilbury, Chief of the Office of Secrecy, Special Advisor to the Supreme Mugwump, International Confederation of Wizards.”
And I’d thought interference by the British Ministry was sufficiently repugnant!
Hermione inhaled to steady her palpitating heart. She had no idea where this was going, but fight she would – if not for Severus, then for Hogwarts.
“Pleasure,” she returned in a tone which plainly suggested otherwise.
“My office has learnt of your loss of magical powers. Our intelligence suggests your… ailment, or its consequences, are somewhat permanent – is that true?”
“I thought as much.” Tilbury chortled mirthlessly. “My office has some questions on your residence in Wizarding Britain and continued tenure at this institution.”
“Forgive me if I should misunderstand you,” Hermione began slowly, “but are you accusing me of violating the Statute of Secrecy?”
“Non-magical persons cannot—as you must know, Professor—violate the Statute.” Tilbury flashed a dangerous smile. “This school, however, has obligations to, ah, keep secrets.”
Her eyes flashed. “I entreated Hogwarts to allow me to stay. This has nothing to do with them.”
“Your private communications are inconsequential,” Tilbury dimissed. “Let us be clear, Miss Golding. You are a Squib. Without an Oath of Secrecy, every day you are permitted to teach here is a breach of this school’s obligations under the Statute.”
“If you think I would betray the magical community and my peers—”
“Indeed, we do.” In a bumptious flourish of sleeves, Tilbury conjured a lone rosewood chair before Snape’s table, as though she owned the office.
“Best have a seat, Miss Golding, so we might begin.”