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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?"



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