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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.


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