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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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