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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.

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