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The Gallery by mary ellis

Format: Song fic
Chapters: 6
Word Count: 12,743
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Mild Language, Scenes of a Mild Sexual Nature,

Genres: Humor, Romance, Angst
Characters: Dumbledore, McGonagall
Pairings: OC/OC

First Published: 05/06/2007
Last Chapter: 05/31/2007
Last Updated: 05/31/2007

Summary:
Minerva and Albus--were they just friends, or is there a hidden relationship behind the pursed lips and the twnkle?

The characters, background, and setting herein belong to Jo Rowling. The flights of fancy are mine.

This story is based on a song by Joni Mitchell, from her first album Clouds.


Chapter 1: 1. Teacher and Student
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1. TEACHER AND STUDENT

When first I saw your gallery
I liked the ones of ladies
Then you began to hang up me
You studied to portray me


Albus Dumbledore strode into the Headmaster's office, removed his snow-covered cloak, and draped it over a chair. "Ah, Miss McGonagall, I'm sorry. Have you been waiting long?"

"What? Oh, it's all right, sir. I was just looking at the portraits of the old Heads."

He blew on his hands and stared at the rolls of parchment that filled her arms. "Is all that meant for me?"

They're the house-elves' end-of-term inventories, sir. Headmaster Dippet said I should make sure you get all the reports before the new year."

She deposited the unwieldy cylinders on the desk and arranged them in a neat stack, then stood at attention in front of him, her gaze wandering back to the pictures of former Headmasters and Headmistresses high up on the walls. All of them were sleeping—quite loudly.

He addressed himself to the topmost report, wincing occasionally at the gurgles and wheezes overhead. He wondered how Armando Dippet could stand the noise. No wonder he had requested an extended leave of absence— though, of course, the real reason was surely the death of that little girl last June and the scandal that had ensued—

Her voice interrupted him. "They sound rather peaceful, don't they?"

He glanced at her over his crescent-shaped reading glasses. Was the girl tone deaf? "I would hardly call it peaceful, Miss McGonagall. For one thing, Headmaster Black's basso profundo makes a distinct tritone with Madam Snodgrass's spinto trill."

A dimple showed briefly in the Head Girl's cheek. "Really, Professor? I know little about music, unless you want to talk about chanters and drones…"

"Hmm, oh, you are speaking of the bagpipes, are you not?" He had a vagrant thought that prolonged exposure to that very strident Scots instrument might explain her questionable taste in harmonies. But that same exposure might make her a creditable dancer. The Highland Fling or something similarly energetic would be her style, with lots of kicks and turns and jumping about.

He asked her about it, but she replied in the negative. Quidditch it seemed was her only physical outlet, and her chief passion.

She went on in an eager voice. "I was actually more interested in their faces, you know, particularly the witches. They're so very different from one another, yet all...somehow…intelligent and strong and almost majestic."

He studied her a moment as she perused the paintings. She herself would make an excellent study for an artist with her strong jaw-line and chin, the cheek hollows hinting at the ascetic, raven hair, sleek and glossy, tied back loosely into a bun at the nape of her long white neck. A swan's neck he thought—but no, there were freckles there, as on her cheeks, but just a sprinkling. Charming, actually.

He remembered her whizzing past him at a Quidditch match last month, her mouth a grim line, as she concentrated on chasing down an errant Quaffle. Her broomstick, as thin and lithe as herself, brought her up quickly behind a hulking Slytherin who was also in pursuit. Belthammer—yes, that was the boy's name. Beefy fellow, for a Chaser. McGonagall had caught him up and snatched the Quaffle deftly right in front of his pug nose. He had tried, in his turn, to squash her against the stands—a dastardly move, but not uncommon in hard fought matches. She had thwarted his plan with a sudden, face-draining upward swoop. Belthammer had managed only to mash her foot against the rough, pebbled stone wall. She went on to score and finished the game without a whimper, though Albus had noticed considerable blood on her stocking afterwards.

"That one I know." She was pointing now with a slender hand. "Archmagess Derwent, is it not?"

"Right you are." He gave up on the reports, which interested him now far less than this inquisitive child. "Dilys Derwent, the only person ever to hold the position of Headmistress and Chief Healer at Saint Mungo's simultaneously."

"She looks formidable—and very shrewd."

"Actually, I understand she was a bit on the stodgy side. She did not care for innovation of any kind. Surprising in a Gryffindor, I might add."

"I'm glad to hear that—that she was a Gryffindor I mean. And this one here, who is this—if I may ask?" She was biting her lip now, the one touch of shyness in this forthright Scots lass. She indicated a small pastel sketch hanging behind the desk at eye level, one that he had brought in himself to make his occupation of Dippet's office a bit more bearable.

"That is Dame Hermia Purefoy--a dear friend and--colleague," he murmured, and lapsed into a fond memory. Ah, Hermia, so bright, so passionate, so far ahead of her time...

Their liaison had started about five years before with a question he had broached during a lecture she was giving on Transcendental Transfiguration. He could not for the life of him remember now what his query had been about, except that he was sure it had contained only the gentlest hint of reproach about one of her less credible hypotheses. True, he had used the word 'unsubstantiated' to describe it, but he had also called it 'innovative'. He did remember that.

He also remembered Hermia's eyes blazing as she answered his question in tones of thinly veiled belittlement. He had apologized profusely later and invited her out for a drink so they could clear up what was obviously a misunderstanding. One thing led to another, and the two found themselves sharing thoughts and dreams and the inevitable bodily fluids for some sweet months.

She had moved recently to America to develop ever more abstruse theories and addle the brains of ever more brilliant—and possibly (though he hoped not) younger—warlocks. It was a good thing he had commissioned this portrait before she left. Looking at it gave him hope she might yet return to him. He found making new friendships increasingly difficult these days. Stability seemed more and more a state he coveted. But a long-term relationship, it seemed, was not high on Dame Hermia's list of priorities.

The Head Girl interrupted his meditation. "Well—I'd best go now, Professor. I'm due in Advanced Potions."

He cleared his throat. "Hrumph—yes. You know, I could give you the history of some of these grandes dames, sometime. When things settle down a bit. Would you like that?"

Her voice softened. "I would—very much."

~*~

The final Transfiguration class was over. Minerva mustered her courage and approached his desk. It was now or never. This time tomorrow she would be out of school—forever. Who knew if their paths would cross again, or whether he would care if they did not? He was a great archmagus, a world traveler, as well as a teacher, charismatic and magically powerful, dispensing his arcane knowledge with a prodigal hand. She was merely one of his many fortunate students, a minor laird's daughter, a witch from the country whose own gifts were negligible.

The other students flowed around them like Time itself. His face looked much as she remembered it when he strode into the Great Hall at Connghaill Keep so long ago to lend her family comfort and support at her father's wake. He had looked then like an adventurer home from some dangerous expedition: his robe kilted above his knees, revealing travel stained trousers tucked into thick-heeled dragonhide boots, his wand stuck carelessly in his belt.

His auburn hair and beard were perhaps a shade lighter now, enriched with strands of silver, and, of course, he was dressed in the height of wizarding fashion in black satin robes embroidered with pale blue and silver stars. Yet the same twinkle was in his eyes, the same thoughtful consideration behind them. It was not possible that he could have a cruel streak, was it? She had to know.

"Professor, could I speak to you a moment?"

"Why yes, Minerva, what can I do for you?"

"Er…do you remember telling me about the portraits in the Head's office? You said you'd say more about them sometime." She had thought this over carefully last night. It was as good an excuse as any, to get him alone and unsuspecting. With all she needed to get off her chest, she might find herself shouting at her mentor. She didn't want to, but if it came to that, she'd rather they were behind closed doors.

"Oh yes. Very good. I had forgotten about that. This would be a good time, would it not? No more tests to study for. But you would want to spend this last day with your friends, would you not?"

"I can see them anytime. And it's not just the portraits. I needed to talk to you, too. About something—that's been bothering me." Actually there was more than one thing, but the second she could hardly admit to her thoughts, while the first still lay between them.

~*~

He led her out the door and down the corridor to the Headmaster's office. She was babbling away about school activities, and he saw no need to interrupt her. But Minerva McGonagall rarely babbled. What was going on with this usually stolid, practical young witch? Patience, Albus, he thought. The truth will out eventually. It always does.

Inside the office, they passed a door that was half opened and showed a narrow flight of steps inside. She stopped short. "Oh--I never noticed this before," she said, glancing at it. "What is it? Storage?"

He stepped towards her to open the door wider, and she jumped back. He had never known her to be so nervous. There was definitely something on her mind. "I put this door in myself," he said to put her at her ease. "A short-cut to my personal quarters. Headmaster Dippet was kind enough to afford me some living space in the tower next to this one when I agreed to act as temporary Headmaster."

Yes, it was kind of Armando—and generous. He guessed it was payment for his advice and his support after the horror of the previous summer. He had not thought he had really been that much of a help. All the evidence clearly pointed to young Rubeus Hagrid as the so-called 'Heir of Slytherin'—though Dumbledore had believed in his heart that the young bumbler could never have been responsible for the terrorizing of his fellow students and the death of one of them. No, he had suspected someone else entirely…But the expulsion had been necessary—and expected—in light of the evidence. At least, at his recommendation, the Board had stopped short of consigning the boy to Azkaban.

He stood aside to let her enter the office proper. As she brushed by, he smelled heather in her hair. How could that be? She had not been back to Perthshire since Christmas. But it was there all the same.

He gave her a little lecture on each of the paintings. All the history of Hogwarts was here, summed up in the faces of its Headmasters, the great and the small, the brilliant and the plodding, the innovative and the retrograde.

"But this one--it disturbs me rather." She had picked, this time, the portrait of a beefy mage, dark and hirsute. Another of his personal belongings, but relegated to a far corner of the room, out of immediate line-of-sight from his desk. "The eyes seem haunted…tortured almost…the furrow there…and the set of his mouth…He seems bitter…" She looked at her teacher, then back at the portrait—a classic double-take. "But, if you take away all the excess hair, he looks…a bit like…you."

"That is not surprising. That is my father Wulfric, as I remember him, in one of his rare, quiet moments."

"Yes, I see that. You had something of the same look just now. No twinkle, just regret—deep and direct." She blushed and looked away. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to be familiar, sir."

"That is quite all right, Minerva."

"Your father—er—reminds me of someone else, a student—Rubeus Hagrid."

A rather abrupt transition, he thought. And her voice trembled as she said the name. We must be coming to the thing that is on her mind, the thing that is making her as jumpy as a cornered Kneazle.

"Rubeus? Yes, they are alike—and in more than just appearance." He thought he knew what her question was now, and he hoped his little prompt would make it easier for her to broach it.

"Professor…Rube…Rubeus couldn't have done the awful things they said he did…could he?"

"Is that the question you wanted to ask me?"

She nodded, her face grave. He moved to a comfortable settee next to the desk and indicated that she should sit.

After a moment of careful thought, he joined her. "It is certainly possible that he did, Minerva. He admitted to smuggling the spider egg into the castle, hatching, and nurturing it."

"But he didn't mean—"

"I know, I know. He reminds me of my own brother. Dear Aberforth has made some grave mistakes in his life—hurt people and himself—through lack of foresight mostly. I fear Rubeus is much the same type: good-hearted but recklessly, even dangerously, impulsive and naive."

"So you don't hate him?"

"Of course not. Whatever made you think I did?"

"I just heard something from my friend Poppy. I knew Headmaster Dippet had him expelled, but…she said…you took his wand…and broke it. Now he can never hope to be a wizard…ever."

"It was the lesser of two evils, Minerva. It was that—or a term in Azkaban."

She stared at him in horror, then lowered her gaze. "I…I understand, but…oh, Professor, can't you help him? I think he must be very lonely, being exiled from the Magicosm like that."

"Do not worry, my dear. I have a plan for Hagrid. I have persuaded Headmaster Dippet to allow him to come back here—though not as a student. That he could never be—ever again."

"Yes, he could work…in the kitchen perhaps. Although I don't know if he'd much like that…house-elves make him nervous, you know. He's afraid of stepping on them."

"I will let you in on a little secret: Ogg, our current grounds keeper, wants to marry and go into the family candy-making business. He will need a replacement, of course."

She looked at him and he could see the reflection of his own twinkle in her eyes. "Oh, Professor, Hagrid would love that. I know it. He's always loved the Dark Forest and the animals. The centaurs, the unicorns—even the Bowtruckles—" She put her arms around him, her last words trailing off into a warm vapor that permeated his robes as she hugged him with unreserved gratitude. He returned the hug with a fatherly pat on her shoulder.

"You seem to know him rather well," he said as they relaxed to their original positions.

"I sort of took him under my wing for a bit…after his father died."

"Did you have any idea what he might have been doing—on the side?"

"Not a peep. He kept that part very dark. I'm surprised that Tom was able to discover his secret."

Tom Riddle. He paused, wondering if he dare ask a question, the salient question that kept confronting him whenever he heard the boy's name. Tom was young yet, but already showed nascent power, and he was emotionally stunted, but ambitious and determined to make his mark on the wizarding world. What was his real role in all of this?

He was not sure of her relationship with Tom. He had asked her to tutor the boy in Transfiguration at one time, hoping the example of this bright, upright Scots lass would turn him away from the sociopathic tendencies he had developed at that orphanage. It seemed to help; Tom had grown into the model student…

In that moment Dumbledore faltered and did not ask the question; he would not risk defaming a student's name while he had no proof of his perfidy. He turned the conversation to pleasanter matters: Headmaster Dippet's incipient return, which would relieve him of reading dreary reports and allow him to devote more time to his students, and her own plans for the future which seemed hopeful, but uncharacteristically vague.


Chapter 2: 2. Coquette and Counsellor
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2. COQUETTE AND COUNSELLOR

In ice and greens
And old blue jeans
And naked in the roses
Then you got into funny scenes
Which all your work discloses


She had lunch with him. It was still some hours before the Leaving Feast, and it seemed neither of them had anything better to do. A house-elf Levitated a low table in front of the settee laden with sandwiches and fruit so they could continue to enjoy the mood their conversation had set. She could barely eat a thing; she was that excited. His generous spirit poured out over her like a soothing balm and nourished her as no physical food could. She knew he could never have just abandoned Hagrid like that. He was everything she had always thought him to be and deserved all her gratitude—and her devotion.

She watched his eyes as they ate. They traveled over her discreetly, and she observed him with increasing ardor. He was said to be very old, but aside from a few wrinkles and a fine tracery of veining on the backs of his expressive hands, he looked to be quite as strong and attractive as any of the boys she knew. And he was ever so much more mature…She stifled an urge to yawn… it really was very warm in here. Her eyes drifted over to the door that led to his living quarters. She wondered what they were like…

"What's in there, Professor?"

"Oh—just my personal study, lots of books…

"And more pictures?"

"Yes."

"May I?"

She walked to the door and swung it wide. The stained glass of some clerestory windows let in a slanting, rosy light of not-quite-sunset, which raised her spirits to a dizzying height. The color burnished his coppery hair to a polished glow. She had removed her robes at table, complaining of excessive warmth as an excuse to show off her kilt-and-plaid. She was indeed feeling very hot and flushed, but also surprisingly calm and self-assured…

She examined the portraits covering the walls. "You like Muggle-style paintings, don't you?"

"Yes, these are mostly of family members…"

"And friends I think...like Dame Hermia?"

"Yes."

She could feel him watching her as she took in picture after picture. She recognized the subject of one and exclaimed, "It's Professor Cavalo-Grifone from Care of Magical Creatures, isn't it?"

"Indeed it is."

The artist had captured the 'Creature Teacher,' as she was affectionately known, astride her hippogriff—the wind fanning her hair. Minerva sighed. "Ah—she's so beautiful…"

"I…er…that is one I painted myself."

"Really? I didn't know you were an artist, Professor."

"Just a dabbler. I also enjoy playing the bagpipes and dancing the Highland Fling."

"How nice. I heard Professor Grifone is engaged to Professor Dippet."

"Really? Who told you that?"

Something odd in his voice made her stare at her professor. Was that a blush marring his composure? It made him seem so human and quite young. A thrill went through her and made her admit boldly: "I read it in Witch Weekly."

"Ah, one of my very favorite periodicals."

"The article said that you two were—close—at one time." She felt herself smile. This grown-up way of talking was coming very easily to her.

The professor and I do have certain interests in common." He sighed. "In fact, we were going to raise fancy Flobberworms together. I guess that will not be happening now." He was obviously uncomfortable with this line of thought, so she changed the subject, quite deftly she thought.

"What made you take up portrait painting?"

"I find it a more potent reminder of the intimacy of friendship than a mere, easily reproduced photograph. It is a little like magic, you know—you can make your enemies as ugly as you like—blacken their teeth and give them crossed-eyes—and make the people you like impossibly beautiful." His eyes twinkled, and she laughed.

She continued to travel about the room, peering into corners and crannies, wishing she could be the object of his loving artistry like Signora Cavallo-Grifone…or Dame Hermia Purefoy.

"And this," she said, coming at last to a covered canvas supported on an easel in the corner. "It's your latest, I take it. May I peek?"

He nodded. She threw the drape up so that it caught on the top of the painting. He looked at her with a question in his eyes.

The likeness was perfect—herself as he must have imagined her, framed by the rose arbor of some unknown garden—clad only in baggy Muggle dungarees, her arms covering her bosom, looking at him over her bare shoulder, as if surprised in the act of dressing—or undressing. He had caught the sheen of her coal black hair; it was down, long and tousled, and her cheeks were reddened as if she had been recently engaged in some heated activity—the way she felt at this moment. There was frost on the flower petals, surely symbolic of a bursting forth of youth and sensuality through the coldness of scholarly endeavor. He made her look almost glamorous.

"Oh Professor, it's..it's…."

"I'm so glad you like it," he said, coming up behind her. "And please, call me Albus," he murmured. He took her in his arms, and she acquiesced joyfully to his tender ministrations. After an impossibly sweet interlude, he led her into yet another room, his bedchamber. Candles were all about the room, and the bed turned down, and sprigs of heather were strewn about the floor as if he had planned this all along…


~*~

"Lady, don't love me now, I am dead
I am a saint, turn down your bed
I have no heart," that's what you said
You said, "I can be cruel
But let me be gentle with you"


She looked so peaceful lying there, draped over the plushy cushions of the settee, smiling faintly, her robes parted just enough to reveal a deeply hued plaid skirt and a sash of the same material crossing her blouse. Her knees, fetchingly dimpled, a Quidditch scab drying on one of them, were boxed in between the skirt and her navy stockings. He had asked his house-elf Scrimshaw to remove her shoes, thick-soled brogues, which would be perfect for climbing about in her native Highlands. The costume was only slightly askew, and he could imagine her topping it with a jaunty Glengarry with a scarlet feather sticking out of it perhaps, and a sturdy walking stick. He would have liked to enjoy this vision of Scots hardihood and beauty a moment longer, but shadows of evening were creeping already into the office, and they both had duties yet to discharge, she as the outgoing Head Girl, he as the outgoing (he hoped), Headmaster.

He nudged her shoulder gently. "Minerva, Minerva, wake up. It is almost time for the feast."

She sat up and looked about her in bewilderment. "Where am I? The candles—the heather--" she murmured, or so he thought. She stared at Scrimshaw, who was busy clearing away the dishes, as if he had several more heads than necessary or prudent. "What--Professor –Albus—I'm sorry. Did I fall asleep?"

"Yes, you did. I suppose the large lunch and my historical meanderings were too much for you. I took the liberty of putting your feet up. I hope you do not mind."

"I—then—it—I was dreaming. No rose petals--" She sighed and looked profoundly disappointed at something. Candles, heather, rose petals? She must have been enjoying a tryst with some young dashing warlock and woke to find herself still wasting time with this old crackpot, he thought. He echoed her sigh and sat next to her as she laced up her shoes.

"Your dream—I hope it was pleasant."

"Oh, yes, but—confusing—" she looked about her "Very realistic in some ways, but utterly ridiculous in others." She buttoned up her robe, shutting up the vivid reds and greens and blues behind the bleak, black school gabardine.

"Dreams are like that quite often. But I find they always contain an element of truth."

She jerked her head up, as if he had shouted at her and held his gaze with sad, dark eyes. "Professor—you're right. I did see the truth in my dream." He watched her bosom heave as she gathered a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Professor, I—I—don't want--to go. I can't." She hung her head, suddenly seeming much younger than her eighteen years, vulnerable, and unsure of herself.

"Go? Leave Hogwarts, you mean? Mmm, yes. That is quite a common difficulty for young people. The school becomes like a second home. All your friends—"

"I don't care a Shrivelfig about my friends—I just want to—to be with you."

The words struck him like a splash of cold water. There was a gasp behind him—he had forgotten about Scrimshaw—and then a crash. He turned away from her, thankful for the chance to let her collect herself, pulled out his wand, and repaired the shattered dish, which the house-elf had let fall. He then directed the remaining crockery to stack itself in Scrimshaw's hands, and propelled him gently out the door. Then he turned back to her. "My dear child—"

"I'm not a child." She squared her shoulders and mastered her quivering chin. She obviously needed to get her feelings out, and he would have to let her. "I know what I want. I'll be happy just to work here…in the kitchen…or wherever. I'm not afraid of hard work. I can clean and dust and do filing and answer letters. Please, Professor. And perhaps…someday…" She couldn't finish the sentence, and he knew instantly what she was feeling.

He had met such 'crushes' in his students before—boys as well as girls—although he had to admit he hadn't experienced one in over fifty years now. He tried to keep the pity and sadness out of his eyes. Empathizing only made them angry. She would want to curse or smack him, he thought, so as to provoke a reaction, to warp his pity into bewilderment or anger. But she was an educated witch, a laird's daughter, respectful of her elders, and so, of course, she did neither of these, but let the tears of frustration, of passion roll silently down her face.

He conjured a generous-sized hankie into her hands. She buried her damp, flaming face in it. "I must admit, Minerva, I am flattered," he started. "I am over a hundred years old. Five times your age. An old gaffer, as your generation would say. To have the admiring attention of such a pretty lass—"

"I'm not pretty," she croaked, blowing her nose. "I'm too practical to be pretty. My eyebrows are too straight and too thick and my hands are too big-- my feet too--and I'm too tall and too thin, and Goodie Gudgeon says I've way too much backbone--"

"Ah, your dear old nurse. What do you think she would say to this—situation?"

"I don't know. She'd likely call me a daftie bampot."

"Perhaps. At the very least, she would say that you should not waste a life so full of promise, clinging to a creaky old codger like me."

"But you're not—"

He held up a hand. "You must believe me, Minerva. I do understand your feelings somewhat. I was a student once myself. You have grown comfortable here with me and the other teachers. It is natural for affection—real affection--to spring up in such cases. And as brave as I know you to be, like all young people, venturing into a new, uncharted world, you fear the unknown, the future."

"I—no—I don't—"

"Let me show you something." He pulled a letter out of his pocket and held it steady for her. She read it silently through tear-blurred eyes.

Dear Albus,

It was good to hear from you. Forgive me for injecting a business note into our friendship, but I must confess, you've written at a most opportune time. One of my Transfigurers just resigned to take what he believes to be a better position--in the Antipodes, no less. I don't suppose you've any competent alumni available to try for the position…


She looked at him. " 'Competent alumni.' You mean…me? You want me to apply…for this job?"

"It is just outside London—WEEMI—the Magical Institute, you know. Some of their magizoologists need help with their –er—personal transformations. You had an Outstanding on your Transfiguration NEWT I believe. I would be more than happy to recommend you."

She hung her head and pouted. "I should be grateful, I suppose."

"That is not necessary or possible at this moment, I can see. But I hope you will write to them, and—after you get the job—I hope you will let me know how you are doing."

She looked long into his eyes. "I will, Professor," she said woodenly. He proffered his hand, and she gave it a perfunctory shake, then rose numbly to go to the dorm and get ready for the Leaving Feast. She stopped at the door and turned back to him.

"I just have one question, sir. About my dream. You aren't really planning to raise Flobberworms with Professor Grifone, are you?” She essayed a small grin, and he knew she was going to be all right.




Chapter 3: 3. Aide and Headmaster
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3. Aide and Headmaster

Somewhere in a magazine
I found a page about you
I see that now it's Josephine
Who cannot live without you



The former Assistant Expediter of Transformations for the Western European and English Magibiological Institute smiled to herself as she picked up her luggage, entered the Hogwarts Express, and settled herself in an empty compartment. She was very early; as yet there were only a few students on the platform.

How fortuitous that Poppy had shown her that Witch Weekly article about their old Transfiguration professor. She had studied the picture of Dumbledore posing with Josephine Marchbanks, a Ministry prosecutor, at a party held in his honor on being named Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot. She congratulated herself that she detected no sting of jealousy in herself, even as she took note of their cozy propinquity.

No, she felt only gratitude towards the old man who, ten years before, had correctly divined her amorous outburst to be equal parts teenage libido and hero-worship. Now, after a decade of dealing with other elderly, brilliant mages who were tops in their own fields, but couldn't change a toothpick into a needle to save their souls, Minerva McGonagall knew that she'd never make that mistake again.

But an even luckier discovery had come to her when, leafing through the magazine's back pages for the rest of the article, she had come upon an advert which made her forget all about it.

Wanted: staff aide, prestigious boarding school. Clerical/light maint. duties. Live-in Sept.-June. CV/ref. attn. Hdmstr. Dippet, c/o Hogwarts School of W/W, Hogs Mountain, Perthshire.

The words had conjured up the sweetest of memories for her: walks with Poppy and Pomona around the loch on crisp autumn afternoons, waiting with a nervous stomach in the bowels of the locker room with her teammates for the start of a game, piling into the Hogs Head out of the blowing snow with a gaggle of red-cheeked friends, the nose-tickling aroma of lemon-oil and chalk dust, the stimulation of books and lively debate.

She surrendered to the romance of remembrance and sent in a copy of her credentials, along with a glowing recommendation from Director Wandsworth, Head of the Institute.

She had, of course, won the job, after a single interview with Armando Dippet, who remembered her excellent marks and evenhandedness in dispensing both points and detentions as Head Girl. And the salary offered hadn't been as much of a disappointment as she'd thought.

~*~

I keep your house in fit repair
I dust the portraits daily
Your mail comes in from everywhere
The writing looks like ladies'



"Congratulations, Professor, dear—I mean—Headmaster—dear." It was Josephine Marchbanks talking, her silvery, melodic laughter echoing throughout the Great Hall. Now she cocked her white-blond head of curls to one side and drew her lips into a pretty pout. The staff aide moved in with a tray of drinks. It was definitely time for a round of toasts to the new Headmaster, Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore. And Jo, his 'steady', an accomplished orator herself, would be the one to lead them.

Minerva McGonagall continued about the room, offering champagne to family, friends, and colleagues of the great man, who should have been basking in his well-earned glory. But all day she had sensed a malaise about him. She knew he didn't care much for offices and honors…

There was more laughter at the other end of the room as Headmaster-emeritus Dippet told a funny story about a potions lesson gone awry—one Minerva had heard many times before. The old fellow was not at all unhappy to be stepping down from his arduous post at the end of the fall term. His had been a regime marked by tragedy—two Muggle wars, the death of a student, the expulsion of another. And now, he had been diagnosed with a mild heart condition and told that if he wanted to be sure of living to his full 'Wizard's 200', he should find a less stressful place and mode of employment. It was no wonder he was bouncing about the room, a huge grin on his face. He'll enjoy retirement—raising varieties of spiny Puffballs and toadstools, she thought. Fungi were ever his favorite flora.,.

She silently ticked off the duties already discharged, and those still to be discharged: hmm… checked Professor Al-Gebr's Divination tests, saw those three students about their Charms NEWT, sent the first batch of polite refusals on the Transfiguration position... She needed only to take Archmagus Viscesku aside for a moment about his son's problems in Creature Care. The poor child had developed a positive horror of Flobberworms…

~*~

He was seeing the last of the guests to the castle doors. Jo had his arm as usual, patting it rhythmically, leaning into him and talking in a slightly more elevated voice than usual. He could smell her perfume, delicate, yet penetrating.

"…but, Albus darling, I told you the Ministry has no call on my talents, and I got an E in Transfiguration…"

He let the words slide by him. They had had this conversation before, and she'd had his answer, but her energetic, argumentative mind could not accept it. He allowed his eyes to wander across the room to where Minerva McGonagall was directing house-elves in the clean-up of the Great Hall.

It always amazed him how very many different ways intelligence manifested itself. Jo was multi-talented, as a lover, a lawyer, and a politician, and full of fire for her craft. But she was no scholar, and had not the patience to take on the position he had held with fondness for twenty years. In fact, for some time he had been wondering what she saw in him.

He himself had grown weary of arguing with her about the finer points of torts and malfeasance. He was no lawyer, no matter how hard she tried to make him one. He hoped he was more like the Muggles' Solomon, needing no particular laws to divine the side of fairness in a given case.

Minerva, on the other hand, evinced no such overt enthusiasm. Her brilliance came out in small ways: her kind but firm handling of the house-elves, her deft, almost off-hand spellwork, her quickness at analyzing problems and solving them before one knew they existed.

Jo aimed a kiss at his lips which he turned into a peck on the cheek, by moving his head a little to one side at the last second. They had not been intimate in months, and she had accepted his waning ardor without complaint. In fact, it was rumored that she was already admitting the attentions of a younger colleague into her busy schedule.

He said good night to Jo and helped her with her cloak, then escorted her to the fireplace in the anteroom off the Entrance Hall, and watched dutifully as she Flooed out.

All the guests were gone now. Back in the Great Hall, his aide was transforming various elegant sideboards, tallboys, loveseats, and coffee tables back into the staff's dais and the mundane tables and benches of the four Houses before she retired to her bed in a tower off the Gryffindor common room.

Apparently the small, self-contained suite suited her very much. She had her privacy, but could still be on call for nightly emergencies. The house-elves were fond of regaling him with stories of her interventions: cleaning up a nose-bleed earned by a gallant Gryffindor defending some girl's honor, blunting a student's despair over a bad mark with timely tutoring, drawing the sting of the loss of a friend to a new circle of friends by simply listening.

"Very posh décor, Miss McGonagall. Regency, is it not?

"Thank you, Headmaster. Yes, I saw the furniture in Witch Weekly. A tour of the Minister's Mansion. Thought I'd give it a go."

"And the Gryffindor red and gold in the appointments—that was a nice touch."

"Well—you wouldn't have wanted silver and green, would you?"

"Certainly not!" He smiled.

She completed the Transfigurations, unerringly as always.

"You are very good at this."

"I had a good teacher—the best, in fact."

"Someone from the Institute?"

"Heavens, no! That lot couldn't turn wood into charcoal if you gave them flint and steel to light it with."

He gave her a long look. "Why did you not apply for the position of Transfiguration teacher, Minerva?"

She took time to consider her reply. "The thought did cross my mind, but I've little practical experience in teaching, for one thing."

"Very few applicants had any at all."

"But you got so many applications—there were quite a few Archmages among them—with rafts of Outstanding NEWTS…surely…"

"Yes, quite a few. And I interviewed them all…" He shook his head. "But none of those witches—or wizards—seemed to have quite what I was looking for. This is just another job to them, another entry on their curriculums vitae."

"And Jo Marchbanks?"

The remark startled him. He studied her face. There was no hint of jealousy in the dark eyes, but perhaps just a hint of amusement in the quirk of her mouth. "I will confide in you, if I may, Minerva: I admire Jo for her beauty and her spark and her independence, but she takes care of herself a bit too well to be a teacher at my school."

"Indeed she does. But I should think good grooming and appearance would be an important part of a teacher's habits–"

"That is not what I mean, and you know it. If a student were in need of someone to listen, would our eminent prosecutor give up her beauty rest to stay up with him and help him wrestle with his inner demons? If a Chaser from her House were injured out on the pitch, do you think Jo would let the girl bleed all over her elegant robes, waiting for the nurse?"

"Perhaps not."

He took in her face, her complexion creamy under a sprinkling of tiny brown freckles, her own gaze direct and unafraid. "I remember a student of mine who I once asked to tutor a boy in Transfiguration because he was brought up without benefit of a magical household. He was an orphan, and not the nicest of boys—rude and hating, in fact—and a member of a House she despised. But she accepted the challenge without a murmur. The boy's marks improved and he eventually became Head Boy, thanks in no small part to her example and the fact that she wouldn't quit on him.

"I remember that same young witch pleading with me to forgive a friend she thought had been given an excessively harsh punishment. I remember her face lighting up like a Christmas tree when I told her he'd be coming back to Hogwarts as apprentice groundskeeper.

"And only this week, she arranged a gala celebration in my honor with over a hundred invitations, while tutoring half a dozen students for their OWLs and substituting for two teachers who were down with Dragon Flu, in the subjects she most abhors: Divination and Arithmancy."

"She looked away. "Well…it is my job after all…to take care of such things…"

He put his hands on her shoulders and drew her around square so that she could not help but look at him. "Minerva McGonagall, will you kindly drop that irritating humility of yours and accept the position of Transfiguration teacher for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry?"





Chapter 4: 4. Colleagues and More
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4. Colleagues and More

"Lady, please love me now, I am dead
I am a saint, turn down your bed
I have no heart," that's what you said
You said, "I can be cruel
But let me be gentle with you"


Minerva McGonagall, Professor of Transfiguration and de facto meetings secretary, plopped an armload of books down on the staff room table. It's almost time, she thought, and I've not yet transcribed the minutes for the last—

The door swung open, and there stood Headmaster Dumbledore, a half hour early. Drat! What is it now? He's never on time for these things—

"Minerva," he said hoarsely, "I need to talk to—someone—to you." He must have seen the look of exasperation that crossed her face because he waved a hand at it and said, "It's all right—about the meeting. I've cancelled it--sent my Patronus out to everyone. Something has happened which I must have counsel about. I've been thinking about it all day, but I just can't see my way—Can you spare the time?"

His own face held shock and something like despair. Why had she not noticed it immediately?

She thought to apologize, but "Where to?" was all she said.

~*~

Leading her to his office, he had a queer sense of deja-vu. They had walked this path in a similar state of tension once before. It had been—yes—her last year at the end of her tenure as Head Girl. Then though, it had been she who was aching with revelations, with questions, and the need for guidance.

He had promoted her to the Transfiguration chair barely two years ago. When had she become in his mind the counselor, and he the troubled novice? Was it when she persuaded him not to evacuate the school in the face of rumors that the Monster of Slytherin had returned? The threat had turned out to be a hoax, a bunch of rowdy sixth years—and Gryffindors at that-- painting the walls with lurid threats. She had waved off his thanks, saying it was only because she was just a little closer to understanding the students' minds, living cheek-by-jowl with them in her little tower hard by the Lions' c.r.

No, he judged, her place in his pantheon of friendships had shifted gradually, with faithful attention to duty nudging her out of a minor deity's shadowy niche. Yes, that, and the way she actively resisted the urge to favor some students over others less important or attractive. Also, she was prompt in turning in her own 'homework': reports and records and such. Her mind was one of the finest he'd had the pleasure of enhancing in all his years of pedagogy. Bright and inquisitive she was, but sensible. It was all these little things—like droplets of water wearing away a stone—that made him confident that she could help him find his way now. Yes, all that…but something more…

They reached his inner sanctum. He had made the Head's office truly his own now with even more paintings of friends and family, and plush, comfortable furniture, but also delicate magical devices on pedestals, ticking and clinking away, adding an asymmetrical rhythm to the muted whispers and rumblings of the Old Heads in their frames above.

But he was oblivious to their intriguing syncopation as he sank into the overstuffed chair behind his desk. She drew up a straight-backed one across from him, as if it would help her to focus her attention on the problem he was about to lay before her. Her refined features puckered into a moue of concentration.

"I saw a friend of yours today," he started. He pushed out the next words with an effort. "Tom--Riddle."

She smiled faintly, remembering her student days, no doubt. "Tom? I haven't heard from him since I left school. How is he doing?"

"He's changed, Minerva."

"Really? In what way?"

"His name, his style of dress, his looks—"

"What—what do you mean?"

He let out a slow breath. "I should begin at the beginning. You have heard that Professor Merrythought has made it plain that she wishes to retire at the end of the year."

"And it's about time too," she retorted.

He smiled. The bite of her wit made most people uncomfortable. He found it to be one of her more appealing qualities.

"I was planning to put an advert for the position in Defensive Manoeuvres and him—she responded willingly, hungrily to his gentle touch, and then leaned into him like a bird settling into its nest after a long night's travel.

He sighed into her hair. "I only just realized it: I've been wanting to do this for such a very long time."

She looked up at him and ran her hand over his careworn cheek, smoothed his puckered brow, stroked his lush, red and silver beard. "No longer than I have, I'm sure."

"I am so very old, my dear. What can you possibly see in me, I wonder?"

She studied his eyes, at once mild and fierce, humble and omniscient, the firmness of his lips, the luxuriant growth of beard: every pore, every line, every hair, dear to her. And she smiled, that radiant smile. He started to kiss her again, lightly, along the ridge of her brow, down her cheek to her chin and neck. He was very practiced, she could tell. He would teach her things about her body that she never dreamed of. And she found herself wanting it, oh so much.

She stopped him with a hand to his lips. She wanted to give herself to him completely. But her teacherly side temporized with a list of his obvious virtues. She started calmly enough: "You are the fairest, gentlest, kindest, most truthful man I know…"

He looked crestfallen. "What? Not handsome?"

It was this feeble, adorable attempt at humor that brought down her last reserves, and she blurted in all honesty, "Very. And tall and brave and dashing. You are more like an adventuring warlock or Muggle pirate of yore than a Headmaster."

His eyes twinkled. "Shall I ravish you then, my proud beauty, like a buccaneer of old?"

" 'Twill be a most willing ravishment I can tell you." She could feel herself grinning and giggled madly like a school girl

He kissed her again deeply and bent her back. This was no doddering old man feebly clutching; his grasp was firm and fierce, his lips burning, his ardor ablaze in his sapphirine eyes. She returned the kiss with all the lusty vigor of her Caledonian forebears. She knew her feelings for him had never really gone away, only deepened, sinking into the recesses of her soul, waiting for him to resurrect them.



Chapter 5: 5. Lovers and Fighters
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5. Lovers and Fighters

I gave you all my pretty years
Then we began to weather
And I was left to winter here
While you went west for pleasure



"Is it really true? Did Harry actually confront You-Know-Who? And Bella Black? In the Ministry of Magic itself?"

"Yes, Poppy. It's true," barked Minerva, fidgeting about in the infirmary bed, trying by sheer force of will to bring the recalcitrant pain in her back to heel. "But she's Lestrange now. And--she killed Sirius."

"No! Not Sirius Black!"

She told her gaping friend the whole story, most of which she had got from Nymphadora Tonks while they were both recuperating at St. Mungo's. Harry Potter and a group of his faithful followers had marched off to the Ministry to save his godfather from Tom, aka You-Know-Who, and Dumbledore had bailed him out, as usual. But the fallout to the boy's recklessness had been much more serious this time. Sirius—who had not actually been in any danger initially—had rushed to their rescue, along with the segment of the Auror squad who also belonged to the Order of the Phoenix. Kingsley Shacklebolt had visited them, bringing flowers and a tin of Minerva's favorite gingersnaps, and broke the tragic news: Sirius had been killed, and Tom had shown up and tried to kill Harry, but found Dumbledore in his way. Albus humiliated him, of course, and exposed his plot to countless Ministry witnesses.

Harry, of course, had been terribly distraught. Dobby the house-elf reported that Harry had broken every last one of Dumbledore's delicate sensors in his guilty raging, and the mess had taken a week to clear up.

I'd have given anything to be there at the Ministry, she thought, as she dutifully swallowed the pills her friend and nurse popped into her mouth. I'd have shown those Death Eaters…students of mine…every one of them. For shame! But she had had a misadventure of her own earlier, trying to save Hagrid from being unfairly removed from Hogwarts, and had been brought low by a crew of goons led by that despicable, poorest-possible-excuse-for-an-educator, Dolores Umbridge.

If I ever see that hag again, I'll give her such a bruising. I'll tie her into so many knots, she won't know her arse from her ankles.

But Dolores had had a comeuppance—of sorts. The centaurs had kidnapped her in the Forbidden Forest and frightened the liver'n'lights out of her. Minerva chuckled at that. Called Bane a half-breed, did she? Of 'near-human intelligence'? She was lucky they didn't spit her and roast her over a slow fire. Even the Squibs knew that centaurs believed themselves superior in every way to ordinary magicals. Dolores really was a very stupid woman.

Now Minerva was in the final stages of recuperation in the school infirmary under the beady eye of Nurse Pomfrey. Her ventricles had healed up nicely; it would take a lot more than the likes of Proudfoot, Savage, and Dawlish to keep her down. She'd taught all three of them and they hadn't a decent Body Bind among them. She couldn't figure out how any of them had made Auror—except maybe Dawlish, who she remembered had done quite decently on his NEWTs.

What really stuck in her craw was that Albus had not once visited her after she came fully out of her coma. Apparently he had stayed by her side for several days and nights at St. Mungo's. But then he had to go away—right before school started. She felt a twinge of selfish pique but brushed it off. He had, after all, sent a tin of lemon drops and a note via Fawkes to the infirmary before he left.

But he was going to America! She knew who was there waiting for him—Hermia Purefoy. Minerva refused to give in to self-pity. After all, he had strayed like this only rarely after they had given themselves to each other.

The first time had occurred after he had given baby Harry up to his nasty Muggle relatives.

She remembered that night at the Dursleys' front door, waiting for Hagrid. Her lover's strategy had dumbfounded her:

I've come to bring Harry to his aunt and uncle. They're the only family he has left now.

She'd had to be painfully honest with him:

You don't mean—you can't mean the people who live here? Dumbledore—you can't. I've been watching them all day. You couldn't find two people who are less like us. And they've got this son. I saw him kicking his mother all the way up the street, screaming for sweets. Harry Potter come and live here!

He brooded a long while after giving the little boy up to the uncertain care of his aunt and uncle. Minerva thought at the time that his depression was caused by unrelievable grief over Lily and James's murders. Now she wondered if he had been weighed down by a guilty opprobrium that she had planted in his heart, the knowledge that she did not support him in what might have been the most important decision of his long life.

Her only clue was a fresh memory of him whispering to her in her fitful coma at St. Mungo's that he should have listened to her back then while he still held baby Harry in his arms. Perhaps she had only dreamed it, but it made her wish belatedly that she might have been a bit more sensitive to the quandary he had found himself in so many years before. Harry had needed the blood protection only a family member could afford him (although Dumbledore hadn't told her that at the time), and living among doting wizards proclaiming him every day a hero on the order of Merlin or Mohammed might indeed have turned him into a swell-headed monster on the order of Draco Malfoy or the odious Dudley. But no, she had driven Albus away into the arms of Hermia Purefoy with her sarcastic retort. And somehow the guilt had come back with Sirius' death and Harry's raging. He was gone again, fled to the arms of his erstwhile paramour. Would he come back in time to start school, and could they continue on as before?

Their longstanding relationship of passion and friendly wrangling had weathered that first lapse. She had ignored it and a few other minor trysts, and he had reciprocated by never bringing them up, thus saving them both certain unnecessary personal embarrassment. His infidelity was always caused by extreme duress, and she had no desire to add to that.

But now—now a wall had sprung up between them over these last months. He was keeping things from her, and not just romantic rendezvous. When he escaped Fudge's attempt to arrest him at the school, he made no attempt to contact her, to tell her his whereabouts, his plans. Kingsley told her about places Dumbledore had been seen during the interval: Knockturn Alley, Greater Hangleton, various homes of former students—all Slytherins--badgering servants and shopkeepers, asking questions, bartering for artefacts. All this involved Harry and Tom, she was sure. It was rare that he did not confide in her. She wanted the truth. She had a feeling lives might depend on it.

She reread the note he had left her:

Going to America to seek help in our struggle. Back in time for the Start of Term Dinner. Rest up, Min, and keep the home fires burning. It's going to be a long war.

Yours always,
Albus.


She crumpled the note and threw it on the floor.

War? She'd give him war.


~*~

And now you're flying home this way
Like some lost homing pigeon
They've monitored your brain you say
And changed you with religion


It was good to be back. Broom rides across the Pond always wearied him, even in summer. And the damage that spell had done to his hand hadn't made things any easier. His reception at the University had been cordial. Hermia and Dr. Cragblather had taken him to dinner before getting down to business. Hermia was between lovers but did not essay more than a casual flirtation. She knew he was long since taken.

But now he was home, and he sped up the steps to the infirmary as fast as his 150-year old-legs would carry him.

She met him at the door, looking very much better, but he recognized the look in her eye. She was, as his American colleagues would say, loaded for bear.

Minerva greeted him beady-eyed and erect, with the help of a handsome sheep's horn walking stick. Of course, she was trying to pretend it was little more than an elegant accessory to her quilted dressing gown, waving it at him like an overlarge wand. "Don't trouble to explain yourself to me," she grumbled. "I know you have your needs."

He had expected a waspish mood. She was still in some pain. And he knew she hated, not the pain itself, but the way it slowed her body down. Yet he still couldn't guess her meaning. "What are you talking about?"

"Hermia Purefoy. You went to see her, didn't you?"

"Yes…as I told you…I needed advice on some spellwork…"

"The great Albus Dumbledore needed the advice of a flighty, overrated Glamour guru?"

"She is quite respected in her field, Min—"

"Of course, she is, and well-spoken, and, as I understand it, still very well-preserved."

"Well…that too…"

She started to pace, but all she could manage was a mincing hobble. "All these years, I thought I could keep our situation in perspective, Albus. We had our good times. If you slept with other witches occasionally, I forgave you. I knew I could not expect to fill your every need.—but now I find I can't—I just can't—"

The accusation stunned him. "You don't understand. I didn’t go for that at all—not this time—not for a very, very long time. It's Tom, Minerva. He's still trying to access Harry's brain. And mine too, I believe. Hermia thinks he may be using some kind of ancient Druidic ritual. She's made a study of such things… "

"How convenient of her."

"Please… my dear… "

She was wheezing now, but she wouldn't let him take her arm or help her to a chair. "I'm sorry…I'm behaving…just like the jealous…woman…aren't I. But I can't…help myself. You are my…life's breath, old man…and you've put a… Garroting Curse on our friendship. You're keeping things from me…important…things. You can't blame me if…I feel as if I'm suffocating…"

He went to her and pressed her close. She sagged against him. He felt her bones through the cloth of both their robes. Brittle and sharp—she had lost weight. She murmured something into his chest. He lifted her in his arms and carried her back to the bed. "What did you say, Min dear?"

Poppy hurried over with a glass of brandy and another pill, but Minerva pushed them away. She placed both on a nearby table, and, at the Headmaster's nod, left them alone.

"I said, damn you, Tom Riddle, damn you to hell!"

"Oh, my dear…" He leaned in and soothed her with a caress of her cheek and murmured low into her ear, "Min, you must believe me. If I don't tell you everything it is because I am not sure of the truth myself."

"You've spent countless hours traveling about, searching. For what? Why can't you tell me?" There were tears on her cheeks now. He conjured a hankie and dabbed at them.

"There is a delicate balance here, Minerva. I don't yet understand the source of Tom's power. But Harry…he must know everything there is to know about Tom…what little there is…if he is to have a chance to win out against him. You know the prophecy…"

"Hang the prophecy. I'm talking about us, Dumbledore."

"This is so much bigger than us, Minerva. I thought you knew me better than that. As if I'd leave you here to go running to the arms of another witch when you were suffering yourself—"

She drew back as if he had slapped her. "And you can hang the pity too— I know you better than you know yourself, and I am afraid for you. You are too much like him—like Harry—wandering about the enemy's encampments with no ally at your back: Knockturn Alley, the Riddle mansion—Malfoy Manor for all I know."

Without thinking, he reached out his sore hand to take hers, but she waved it away, then stared at him.

"Albus, what happened? Your hand--"

"It's nothing—a simple curse--I didn't realize—"

"I knew it. You will block Fireballs with your own body, if you think that will save even one poor, benighted Muggle. How will the Magicosm survive that, I ask you? Please, Albus, don't be foolhardy. Let me help you. Tell me what you have planned."

Her tirade lit a fire in him. He roared back, "Talk about foolhardy—who went running out in the dead of night, alone last month, trying to defend Hagrid against the High Inquisitor of Hogwarts and a horde of Aurors? You are not so different from me, young lady."

But she drew strength from his accusations. "Don't you 'young lady' me. I'm seventy years old."

"And I am twice your age."

"Only twice as old?" She started to laugh. It deteriorated into a wheezing cough, and her lover caught up the brandy and administered it. When she regained some color, she continued. "At one time the multiplier was much greater, I recall. But that doesn't matter. You have more experience than I, but I find it hard to believe that seventy years of hard living doesn't teach much the same as double that number; situations do tend to repeat themselves over time." Her face softened. "But don't you see? I'm worried about you, my love. Your common sense seems to have failed you. Some of our colleagues think you're in your dotage, Albus."

"They are wrong. I see more clearly now than I ever did. Tom is very strong, Minerva. His attempts to tap the power of an ancient religion and use it to take over my thoughts have taught me that. Our side must execute a feint, something to make him think he has all but won, something to make him lower his guard—if only just a little."

She rolled her eyes. "Not a Wronski Feint, I hope."

"No, my Quidditch playing days are long over, as you well know."

"As are mine. The plan involves Severus, I'll bet."

"Yes. As it happens he has accidentally set into motion a chain of events which will give a more plausible cast to the ruse. And when it occurs, you will divine its evolution and purpose without my having to explain it to you."

"But you won’t tell me what it is."

"I cannot…I cannot tell anyone else."

"Harry?"

"Him least of all. Will you trust me in this, Minerva?" He caught her hands and caressed them, feeling no pain in his own blackened fingers. She did not pull away this time, but allowed him to kiss her. "Don't I always?" she breathed.



Chapter 6: 6. Hero and Headmistress
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6. HERO AND HEADMISTRESS

"Lady, please love me now, I was dead
I am no saint, turn down your bed
Lady, have you no heart," that's what you said
Well I can be cruel
But let me be gentle with you,



He watched his love put his books back in their correct slots, as she had for so many years. He cherished her now, more than ever. He regretted in intermittent spurts over the years that she had never allowed him to make an 'honest woman' of her and made him promise to keep their love a secret.

The thought of children lay as a heavy shadow between them. She had been an only child, her mother sick in her mind for much of Minerva's youth. One might almost say she had been a parent to her Ma for all those years, obliterating any real childhood she might have had. And as much as he loved the students, the thought of fatherhood, remembering his own father's heavy hand and the dents it put in his brother's psyche, frightened him rather.

"We must observe the proprieties," she would murmur to yearly proposals. But the unspoken rule of half a generation ago of female teachers having to resign their posts once married had long since gone the way of witch burning and the Moontrimmer. When he pressed her on it on their fiftieth 'anniversary', she shushed him, saying that their colleagues and the parents would draw the worst possible conclusion if they married now, at so late an age. But when had she ever cared what other people thought about her personally? Perhaps it came down to the students—their need for examples of sexless devotion to learning as counterweights to their own raging libidos. But he wondered sometimes if perhaps it was not simple, rugged independence that kept her from tying the handfasting knot with him.

And now, in a few days he was going to die by his own will. Severus had railed at him over the plan, but in the end was made to see that it was the only way to flush Tom out. He would miss her beyond the Veil, and he knew she would miss him.

If he had given his body and soul to a lesser lover, he might not have been able to leave so easily. Like most dedicated leaders, he could not bear the thought of a mistress's raw grief spending itself in public, spreading suffering and discouragement among his followers. But Minerva McGonagall was tough. She would curse him at first and call him daftie bampot, her favorite Scots epithet, but she would bear up, and use his memory to comfort and strengthen others for the battle to come.

"Min?"

"Yes, Albus?"

"I have to go on a little trip later tonight, with Harry."

"Another of your private lessons?"

"Yes. It'll be the last, I think."

"That's a comfort. Shall I keep the bed warm for you?"

"I thought… perhaps… just this once… we might start early."

She looked at him and smiled, flashing that fetching dimple that she hid so carefully from everyone else. "So be it. Come upstairs, old man."

~*~

She waited up for the two of them to get back, sitting in his office correcting examinations. Harry Potter was so much like his father, but his friends were not at all like James'. The thought of them took her back…

She stormed into the Head's office, furious at Potter and Black, Ltd.'s latest antics. Disrupt her class would they? And at that poor Slytherin's expense. Not that Severus Snape had been grateful to her for turning him in a trice back from a bordello hussy with a bosom like a pair of ripe pumpkins into his usual drab self. His stringy frame had positively thrummed with revenge, and she had had to do a mild Stun on him to keep him from perpetrating far worse on his tormentors. But the four friends had formed a wall of secrecy when she questioned them on who had actually spoken the cant.

Hmph! Dumbledore would see to their mischief. A week's suspension and zeroes on all the classwork they missed—that would do it. Perhaps Sirius Black wouldn't care about it. There was a wastrel's air about that braw lad. He seemed to actually revel in detentions. But Pettigrew and Potter would soon feel the seriousness of their sins , or at least the wrath their parents would bring down on them. And Lupin—Remus—would be mightily ashamed. Yes, the punishment would hit him hardest…

The four were due in the office just before dinner on pain of summary expulsion. She had only to explain the circumstances to the Headmaster and give him her recommendation…

Her feet left the floor abruptly, and she found herself floating like a phoenix feather up to the rafters. "What…?" she spluttered, waving her arms, trying to remember that Down to Earth Spell Poppy Pomfrey used on students who had eaten too many Fizzing Whizbees. But memory failed her and she kept rotating steadily upward. As she rolled over and over in gentle cartwheels, she heard a chuckle overhead. "Ahoy, lass, and welcome aboard the good ship Pigpimple."

It was Albus, his beard neatly trimmed, his hair tied back and tamed with a parti-colored bandanna. He was dressed in a shiny azure shirt and wide striped trousers, tucked into dragon hide boots with a brocade sash cinching his figure to virile V. A pennant with the Gryffindor Lion billowed out behind him. No, it was too big for that. A full-sized flag, perhaps—or could it be--the mast of a ship? She neared the rafter he stood on, and he leaned out with one arm draped over a crosspiece, and seized her about the waist, hauling her in. The ascent, the random rotations, and ardent squeeze at the end took away more than her breath (though she did manage a vagrant observation that he smelled like one of those new Sleakeazy products she was forever confiscating from flighty fourth-years in the back of her classes.) His chest hair, still reddish, bubbled up through the front of his shirt, which she could see now was open down to his waist. A pirate, was he?

"Dumbledore, please… "

"Arr, now, now, beautiful lady, I have another name." He nuzzled her cheek, working his way down to her collarbone, which started both of them panting.

She strove to keep her composure—there was business to attend to, though she could not at the moment remember what… "Albus, then."

"Not at all—" He placed her firmly on a wide portion of the wooden beam and stood, arms akimbo, before her. "You have been captured by none other than the Dread Pirate Roberts." He bowed low, as to a princess.

"Who?"

"Bart Roberts, the nastiest, brassiest, wiliest, most profitable of all in the pirates ever, in the entire Mundane world."

"Oh. (He'd been reading Muggle literature again.) I suppose I should be afraid then."

"Of course! Evenings, I am told, it was his habit to ravish at least ten maidens before dinner."

"Ten."

"At least."

"Where are the other nine?"

"Ah—you see my dilemma. There are no other ships on the horizon, my dear, and no lovelies so lovely as you. So I suppose I shall have to have you ten times to make up for the lack."

"Should I shriek?"

"As much as you want. But we should start tea first."

"Tea?"

"Why yes. The Dread Pirate Roberts may have been a mere Welsh commoner, but he still observed the amenities." He twirled his wand which he had drawn out of his sash, and there appeared, floating in mid air, a table on which was spread a bountiful repast, replete with her favorite dainties and a huge silver teapot. He conjured a plush velvet loveseat and, taking her hand, floated them both over to it.

They were just finishing their third cup, alternating sips with exponentially increasing degrees of intimacy for which the loveseat seemed to expand as needed. Minerva, full of Darjeeling and gingersnaps, was blissfully lounging, her left foot, still shod at the moment firmly anchored about the top of the loveseat. Her captor was busy besieging the naked toes of the right with tender kisses. She giggled and kicked off her second shoe. It plunged earthward to join other, more delicate articles of clothing, which had been long since plundered and lay about over various bits of furniture in the office, including the Head's desk. Something lacy and black hung from a corner of Phineas Black's portrait.

She expected the shoe to thunk, but it made a noise more like 'splut' and 'ouch.'

Ouch?

"Oh, dear me," breathed the Dread Pirate Roberts.

"Albus, what--?"

He silenced her with a finger to his lips, and gently drew her foot back onto the seat. "I forgot the door," he whispered into her hair. "Was I expecting visitors, did you know?"

"The Potter boy and his cohort, I'm afraid."

"Ah, for punishment?"

She nodded.

"Stay here." He kissed her and waved his wand. His rakish raiment sobered to a voluminous black robe, softened by a spangling of blue stars, whose skirts were sufficient to cover her as well. She squirmed back into the fold of the loveseat, and he leaned away from the curve of her abdomen. Their disguise was complete. She knew he hated to use Memory-wipes and Legilimancy on anyone. He considered it an invasion of an individual's private memory space, but he would not be above a little ruse.

The Headmaster called down, "Hello, boys. Come for your just desserts, have you?" His mouth was full of something crumb-y, which he was enjoying, she could tell.

"Er—yes, sir." It was Lupin, outwardly calm and cautious.

"Well, Professor McGonagall started to tell me about your perfidious behavior, but was called away on an emergency, so I will have to hear about it from your own lips." He sipped his tea as if this was the way he always held court.

Minerva sensed the miscreants craning their necks to glimpse the face of their judge and read his mood; their malaise showed in taut or quavering replies. Even Black was stressed by this Sword of Damocles poised directly overhead.

They took turns telling the tale of Snape's humiliation, without a hint of mirth or self-justifying smugness, as if they were mere innocent bystanders, but would not own up to who had actually done the deed. They were a loyal bunch, she had to give them that.

She thought they'd never crack, but then she heard a gasp and a snicker.

"What's that?" It was Remus.

"Looks like somebody's knickers." It was Black--in some awe, she thought. And he was right; they were knickers—hers, black and lacy.

"And over here," said Potter. "Isn't that a corset under that chair?"

"Yep," said Sirius, "My mother wears the same model."

"Very observant of you, boys," said the Headmaster without missing a beat. "They are all part of a little experiment of mine."

"I beg your pardon, sir," said Potter, "but what kind of experiment would involve hanging an article of lady's clothing hanging over a picture frame?"

"An experiment in guilt and innocence, of course. I have been sitting up here since you came into my office, and not one of you made mention of the state of disarray below. But as you relaxed and got used to the unusualness of the situation, you, as healthy young men, should have started to notice and comment on the intimate articles strewn about the room. You did finally. Well, three of you did. The fourth, possibly preoccupied by a guilty conscience, was looking inwardly, not outwardly."

There was silence; either they didn't get it, or they still couldn't bring themselves to admit that he had one of them dead to rights.. Their judge taxed them with the idea, and Peter Pettigrew broke down, admitting he had found some pictures of ladies of the night in his father's desk and passed them around in Transfiguration. Minerva had been rather amused by the whole business up to this point, but now she fumed inwardly. Boys would be boys, but not in her classes!

Sirius admitted they had voted on the outfit and lascivious pose they wanted young Snape to assume, and Peter had let fly. His teacher had to admit grudgingly that she didn't know he was capable of such complex spellwork.


She chuckled now over their near exposure. Albus promised her a return of the Dread Pirate Roberts on a real Muggle ship over the summer. Barbados, it was--so very nice….

A booming noise startled her out of her reverie. Potter, Lupin, Pettigrew, and Black were long since gone from the school, and the Weasley twins had been expelled over a year ago. Who could have taken on their rogues' mantle? Now there was screaming—long, drawn-out, paralyzing. She grasped her wand and ran for the hallway.


~*~

When I first saw your gallery
I liked the ones of ladies
But now their faces follow me
And all their eyes look shady



She cleared out his desk, put stray parchments in the appropriate fileboxes, and started on the walls. Down came the portraits of Hermia, Josephine, Porpentina. Each seemed to look at her accusingly. You did nothing to protect him, they said, and now he is gone.

Should she have known what he had planned? She could not say. His was the ultimate unselfish act—Greater love hath no man… the Muggles said. Yes, she might have divined it, but perhaps she just didn't want to know, lest she should try to keep him from carrying it out.

Vagrant thoughts flitted through her brain:

I can't damn him for keeping me in the dark. He knows I—and Harry too—would never have let him do this—

And:

Do you miss me, Albus—anything like as much as I miss you?

She sat at the desk and faced her pain—the memories of her lover, full and fluid and rich with humor and kindness.

The way he caressed the dimple in her cheek, which she flashed only for him…

His hands, gentle, his touch assured, across her shoulders, down her back…

His gaze holding an entire grieving student body in a loving embrace…

His wrath at injustice, his unqualified forgiveness...

His unfailing courtesy even to ruffians...

His patience with Harry, no matter how many mistakes he made...

His care of a young weeping girl, hopelessly infatuated with her teacher...


~*~

The portrait had appeared in the Heads' gallery only this morning. His effigy was still sleeping, snoring gently. He was dressed in the same robes he'd hidden his buccaneer's costume with, the ones she'd come to like the best, the black with blue stars. She saw in his hand a copy of her own recently published Essays. She noticed just now an addition to the background of the picture. Behind him a mural had come into focus, depicting a girl, gaudy in red and gold coveralls, the old-style Gryffindor Quidditch uniform, and riding the slenderest of broomsticks, her black hair streaming out behind her, her lithe body straining forward to gather in another errant Quaffle. In all the years she knew him, he had never evinced a desire to learn to paint as she had once dreamed he did. But the mural looked somehow as if it were his work, well-balanced, patiently limned, yet primitive in perspective, as it might be from one who was just learning how.

"I love you, old man," she murmured. "Sleep well."



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