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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.

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