Author's Note: Many thanks to dogfishy for her help and advice with this chapter!
Albus could not decide whether he preferred Saturday evenings or Sunday afternoons.
Saturdays were for chess and conversation. Albus and Minerva had continued their traditional game after dinner in the Great Hall on Saturdays, and she had quickly become a formidable opponent, which gave Albus great pleasure. It had been some time since he had had an opponent who could be counted on to beat him half the time. Even Filius, who was a fine chess player, had become somewhat predictable. Not so, Minerva. He could never be certain exactly what she would do in response to any of his moves. It was emblematic of the intricacies of her mind, he thought. As well as he thought he knew her, she still had the capacity to surprise him in ways large and small.
Which she did one Sunday evening over haddock in Mornay sauce at her cottage.
Sundays were for slipping off the mantles of Headmaster and professor and being just Albus and Minerva together. Since the start of the autumn term, Albus had been visiting her at the house on Sunday afternoons, staying for dinner when circumstances at the school didn't preclude it. They would eat whatever Glynnie had prepared for them before she popped away after greeting Albus at the door, saying, "Will Albus Dumbledore ask Mistress Minerva to summon Glynnie after he leaves?"
In between bites of fish, Albus asked Minerva about the elf's behaviour.
"I'm getting the sense that your Glynnie doesn't much like me," he said.
"Why would you think that?" enquired Minerva
"She disappears for the duration as soon as I come in the door. Do you think she disapproves of us?"
"Not at all. She leaves because I asked her to make herself scarce whenever you come."
At his questioning look, she added: "This is a very small house, Albus. I simply prefer to have it to ourselves when you come 'round."
Albus said, "I see. And how did she take it?"
"In stride. She wished us 'successful matings'," Minerva said with a laugh.
"Well, this afternoon was certainly 'successful' in my book," he replied.
"I don't think that's quite what she meant," said Minerva. "She said she'd like a baby to look after."
Her gaze upon him was steady, and he knew she was asking a question. What surprised him was not the question itself, but the roundabout way she was posing it. She was normally so direct with him that when she wasn't, it made him prick up his ears.
"Minerva," he said, putting a hand on hers, "we should probably have spoken about this before."
"I know," she said. "And now it's getting late. We can discuss it another time."
Her attempt to end the conversation after having brought it up so obliquely told him how uncomfortable she was with the subject. She rarely avoided an issue; he suspected he could probably count on the fingers of one hand the number of times he had caught her at it.
In truth, he had avoided the topic as well. Before Minerva, it hadn't been anything to think about, an idea with no connection to himself. And after she had re-entered his life, she had rapidly become as essential to him as air; the thought of anything that might come between them—his past or a future in which competing desires might divide them—was nearly intolerable.
Judging by her obvious discomfort with the topic, Minerva was as leery as he was of discovering something that might divide them, but they must consider it, he thought.
He stopped her from standing up and said, "No. You brought it up. You must have some feelings about it."
"I don't know . . ." she said. "I suppose I've just wondered . . . if you wanted children."
His first impulse was to turn the question around on her—again—but he checked it, feeling that this time, she would get angry at his old, almost instinctive trick.
So he said, "What I want isn't the real question, Minerva. And in any event, I'm not sure I have an answer to it. If I did, it was so long ago that I cannot recall it." And here it was, there was no avoiding it: "I have known for a long time that I cannot have children."
His heart nearly dropped out of his chest at her shocked look.
This is it, he thought, I'm going to lose her. Her forced himself to look at her face, and when he saw the shock turn to puzzlement, he realised how what he had told her had sounded, and relief buoyed him.
"No, I don't mean that I am physically unable to have them," he said. "I mean that it would not be right—morally."
"You mean it would be too dangerous," she said.
"Yes. And not just for them, but for me . . . and you. Children make one vulnerable . . . in ways I cannot afford. Do you understand?"
She nodded, and he believed that she did understand. It occurred to him then that the discomfort he had seen in her might not be fear that he wouldn't want children, but fear that he would. Could that be it? he wondered.
He asked, "Are you disappointed?"
"No. Relieved, I suppose," she said, confirming his suspicion.
"You don't want children, then?"
"I don't know. But knowing that you don't want them—or at least, won't have them—makes it easier. It means I don't have to make a decision. Does that make me a coward, do you think?" she asked.
"Not at all. But, Minerva . . . just because I will not have children . . . it is not foreordained that you should not have any."
It hurt to say it, but if they were going to have this conversation, they'd have all of it. He didn't want her to wake up thirty years from now to regret having spent them with him.
She looked back at him with a mixture of curiosity and exasperation. "Foreordained? No. But that's an odd way to put it. I may be ambivalent about the idea of having children, but I am far from ambivalent about the subject of who the father of any of my putative children would be. I may not have a choice about the former, but I certainly have a vote in the latter."
He couldn't help saying, "But you might change your mind."
"As might you," she countered.
"Anything is possible," he said, and as he said it, he recognised that the subject was closed; they had moved from uncomfortable discussion of an answerable question to pleasant debate of its intangibles.
And that was the end of it. Minerva seemed to relax, so Albus did, too, and they finished their dinner and the bottle of wine he had brought—or part of it, anyway—over discussion of the upcoming meeting of the board of governors, at which Albus planned to put forward the suggestion that a new position be created: flying instructor.
"Do you think they'll agree to it?" Minerva asked.
"Oh, I should think so," Albus replied. "Especially since I already have a candidate in mind, and I know it's one they'll approve of."
"You have? Who is it?"
He was pleased by the look of delighted surprise on Minerva's face.
To say that Archie Sinclair was well-known was an understatement. He had been nearly a national hero for Scotland when, at the age of eighteen, he had been asked to play Chaser on the Scottish National Quidditch team straight out of Hogwarts, before ever playing a professional game. That year—1936—thanks largely to Sinclair's aggressive style, the Scottish team had reached the semi-finals for the World Cup, only to be beaten when the Indian team's Seeker caught the Snitch in record time, prompting a near-riot of fans who were upset at having paid hundreds of Galleons to see two minutes and seventeen seconds of Quidditch actually played.
Sinclair himself had become controversial in his native Scotland when, after his team's defeat in the World Cup semis, he signed with Puddlemere United rather than with a Scottish team. He'd subsequently helped his team to five British and Irish League Cups and two European League Cups before a 1948 injury forced him to retire from active play in favour of becoming assistant coach.
"How ever did you convince him?" Minerva asked.
"I didn't, exactly," Albus said. "I simply dropped a word with a friend in Magical Games and Sports, and he passed it on to Sinclair. Apparently, he and his wife had a baby earlier this year, and he wants to stop travelling so much. The idea of teaching intrigues him, or so my friend says. And I am assured that the relatively small salary won't be a deterrent. Fortunately, Sinclair didn't spend all his exorbitant Quidditch earnings; evidently, he's rather a thrifty sort—like many of his countrymen," Albus added with a sly grin at Minerva, who ignored it, being far too interested in the topic at hand to rise to his bait.
She said, "Well, that should make it a much easier sell to the governors, anyway."
"Indeed. Easier than Muggle Studies was, in any event."
And that, Albus thought, is an understatement.
He had been privately astonished by his predecessor's agility in handling the fractious board, and never more so than when Dippet had convinced them, despite some initially staunch opposition from predictable quarters, to fund the new position. Albus and Armando had come up with the idea of "Muggle Studies" on Christmas Eve 1936 over mulled mead. Both men had been depressed over the news from Eastern Europe and very concerned about the increasing levels of anti-Muggle sentiment in their own backyard. Early exposure to Muggle culture from a sympathetic teacher, they reasoned—a bit optimistically, as it turned out—might mitigate it in the future.
Armando had been masterful, Albus thought, eventually putting the more stubborn members of Hogwarts' Board of Governors so on the defensive that by the end of the meeting at which the idea had been proposed, they were all bending over backwards to demonstrate that they weren't supporters of this naughty, Muggle-hating foreigner, Grindelwald—certainly not—and that many of their friends—no, their best friends—were Muggle-borns.
After observing his predecessor work his magic at that meeting, convincing this board to approve a flying instructor position should be a walk in the park, Albus concluded.
Later, as Minerva saw him to the door, Albus said, "I'm afraid you mustn't count on me on Saturday evening. The meeting often spills over into drinks and dinner with some of the governors afterwards, and I'm not sure what time I'll get back."
"It's all right," said Minerva, kissing him quickly. "Go forth and raise funds, Headmaster. You can come by here on your way back to let me know how it went. I'll wait up."
"Of course I needn't. But I'll want to. Besides, you'll need to unwind a bit after all that hot air you'll be breathing," she said. "I'll give you tea and rub your neck."
He grasped her hands and kissed the back of each one. "I'll see you tomorrow, Professor."
He Apparated from the back garden to the Hogwarts gates, opening them with an elegant flourish of his large hands.
As he strode up the path to the castle, he thought how strange was the notion that someone might "wait up" for him. That there was someone who cared how his day had gone, not just for the news of how he had (or hadn't) achieved his aims and what that might mean for the various and sundry people who depended upon him, but for his own sake.
Albus thought about their history together, his and Minerva's. Back when she had been eighteen and declared her love for him, he had told himself that it was a passing fancy, a schoolgirl crush—but he had allowed himself to be enraptured by it just the same. Why?
Perhaps, he thought, because it had been such a very long time since he had felt . . . beloved.
It was a feeling, he realised, that he hadn't experienced since his mother had died. Before then, if he were to tell the truth. Albus had never doubted his mother's love for him, but she'd had so much else to contend with—Ariana's condition, Aberforth's increasingly troubling behaviour—that Albus had been a bit of an afterthought, someone not to be worried over, a boy who could take care of himself and everyone else, if need be. He had never resented this—had revelled in it, in fact, in his teenage years—but he suddenly knew that he had missed it, the feeling of being first in someone's thoughts, and the idea stopped him mid-step.
And now he was beloved once again.
Still, he told himself. She loves me still. She has always loved me. As I have always loved her.
He could only hope that nothing would change that, but experience had taught him that one could count on nothing. Love was powerful—perhaps the most powerful force in the world—but one had to be careful with powerful forces. They could protect and nourish, but they could also lead to grievous harm.
Children make one vulnerable, he had told Minerva, but the truth was that it was love that ruthlessly exposed one's unprotected viscera, that sometimes drove one to commit the worst of sins. Albus had only to remember his own father to understand that.
The man who had tortured three Muggle teenagers into near-madness had been driven to it by love for his child.
Albus hoped his love for Minerva—and hers for him—would make him a stronger, a better man. It certainly felt so now. But times change, he knew. Darkness falls, and sometimes, despite our best intentions, we are pulled in with it.
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.
The line sprang into his head suddenly, making him shiver despite the Warming Charm he had cast on his cloak upon leaving the cottage.
He had no doubt who the "rough beast" of Yeats' poem was in his mind
Whatever was to come, Albus thought, they would face it together. Love would surely make them stronger. Vulnerable, yes, but all the more powerful for it—more willing to fight to protect it.
The greater good had been enough motivation for him in the past, but now he was finding his centre had shifted. And he would do his damndest to ensure it held.
The idea for the curse came to Tom suddenly.
Romulus Lestrange had been nattering on to Mulciber and Rosier about his son, Rabastan, and his accomplishments when something caught Tom's attention.
"What? What was that you said?" he barked at Lestrange.
Lestrange turned mid-sentence to his master. "My Lord . . . Rabastan hopes to achieve several O.W.L.s and—"
"No, not that, you fool, what you said before . . . about this Defence teacher . . ."
Tom enjoyed watching how Lestrange's eyes darted nervously to his companions' faces. "My Lord . . . just that Rabastan has discovered why the subject is being taught so poorly . . . the professor is apparently the father of a Squib."
"Really?" Tom said, mostly to himself, wondering why he had not discovered this before. Then again, he had not really had any interest in the teaching position, so he had not bothered to find out much about its current holder. A mistake—no, Voldemort didn't make mistakes, he reminded himself. An oversight, perhaps.
"Yes, My Lord," Lestrange continued, warming to his subject now that his lord seemed interested. "Apparently, Meadowes—the professor—is married to a foreigner . . . of unclear magical heritage. They produced a Squib . . . not surprisingly, I think. In fact—"
"No one cares what you think, Lestrange, least of all me," Tom said mildly. "Tell me, how did young Rabastan discover this . . . interesting information?"
As it turned out, Rabastan Lestrange had been turned out of the D.A.D.A. class when Meadowes discovered he had been using the information gleaned in lectures and his textbook to invent some nasty hexes, which he had been practicing on first- and second-years in the Slytherin dormitories. Naturally, none of his "subjects" had complained, but Madam Soranus had—vociferously—when one girl ended up in the hospital wing thanks to one of Rabastan's experiments.
Since his expulsion from class, Rabastan had "done some research" on Julian Meadowes. Romulus did not elaborate on what this research entailed or how it was conducted, but he didn't need to; Tom had some shrewd guesses. Perhaps this young man would be one to watch, he thought.
Romulus was saying, "How can Dumbledore expect children to learn about the Dark Arts when his professor does not allow his students to practice them—"
He stopped immediately when Tom raised his hand to silence him. "Enough. I have work to do. Leave me. All of you."
The three men hurried out of the room, and Tom summoned one of Nott's house-elves to request a glass of wine, and when it was duly delivered, he settled down next to the enormous stone fireplace to consider what he had learnt.
Tom had found his Defence Against the Dark Arts courses informative and most useful—and extremely frustrating in their limited scope.
Galatea Merrythought had been a wonderful teacher, Tom had to admit, and she clearly possessed a body of knowledge on both the practical and theoretical aspects of the Dark Arts that was as deep as it was broad. Tom had wanted to approach her, to persuade her to take him under her wing so he could explore the limits of her understanding, but she had been altogether too close to Dumbledore. Tom wouldn't have been able to manipulate her as readily as he had, say, Slughorn into sharing information that was off the beaten path of the Hogwarts curriculum, so to speak. Anything . . . unusual Tom had asked of her would have gotten back to Dumbledore, he was certain.
And in the end, it hadn't really mattered, had it? Tom was bright and talented enough to discover what he needed to know without Merrythought's help, although the guidance of such a knowledgeable teacher might have sped the process up quite a bit.
But most students were not as gifted as he was. Not by the widest margin imaginable.
And not many shared Lord Voldemort's outlook on things. Not yet, anyway.
So perhaps it would be best, Tom mused, if Hogwarts' students were prevented from learning much defence. Best if the vast majority of them never came within an ocean's breadth of understanding the Dark Arts, in fact.
The more . . . visionary . . . of them would find their own way, just as young Tom Riddle had. And if they were of the right mind, they would find help if it was needed. Help that was quite outside the influence of that meddling old fool of a Headmaster.
But how to disrupt the inconvenient education of the dull, dim-witted masses?
By removing the teacher, Tom thought.
Professor Merrythought had retired at the end of Tom's sixth year, and it had taken a few months for her replacement—Professor Meadowes, Tom now recalled—to become truly competent in the classroom. Meadowes would be replaced, of course, but it would take time. And his replacement could be dealt with in turn.
Suddenly, it came to Tom. A curse, not on the individual, but on the position itself.
Such magic was incredibly delicate and difficult—far more so than simply cursing an individual would be—but far from beyond Tom's—Lord Voldemort's—capabilities. It would simply need an adaptation of one or two of the complex curses developed by the more enterprising of wizards past. Curses designed to wreak revenge on the families of those who had crossed them. Curses that had doomed entire bloodlines in one way or another. Tom had made an extensive study of these during his travels. The Romani versions were particularly powerful and inventive.
Tom performed a feat something like self-Legilimency to reach back into his memory to retrieve what he had learnt about such curses.
Three hours later, he had it.
He was fairly sure it would work. He only needed to cast the spell physically on the first "generation" of doomed D.A.D.A. professors. Once certain preliminary preparations were made, the curse would pass directly from the first to the next the moment each teacher signed the contract. The key would be to vary the effects of the curse; where many of his like-minded predecessors had gone wrong, he thought, was in making the spell too obviously a curse. If each victim was dispatched in the same way, it would be all too easy to figure out. And although Tom was confident that any curse he placed would be extremely difficult to break, he couldn't be absolutely positive that Dumbledore wouldn't be able to figure it out. Best not to kill the victims, then, he decided. At least not directly. That might provoke open warfare between Dumbledore and himself, and that he did not want.
Not yet, old man. But someday . . .
That's funny, Julian Meadowes thought. Wasn't it raining a moment ago?
He looked up into the dark sky. The stars were obscured by clouds, but there was no indication of rain. Julian held out his arm, examining the sleeve of his cloak. No sign of moisture.
He removed the glove from his left hand and ran his fingers over the nap of the wool on his other arm. Dry.
Perhaps what he had felt before was mist or some moisture that had gathered on the trees and dripped onto his face. He took a few steps forward, then stopped.
Where was I going again?
It took him a moment to recall that he was on his way home after a day's work. He shook his head to try to clear the cobwebby feeling in it.
I need more sleep, he admonished himself.
Concentrating on his front yard—and it took him a few seconds longer than it really ought to have done for him to picture it in his mind—he closed his eyes and turned into the pressing darkness of his Apparition.
Romulus Lestrange and Laurence Rosier stepped out from behind the enormous Scots Pine that had hidden them from view as they watched Meadowes.
"What do you think?" enquired Rosier.
"I think it's a job well done," replied Lestrange.
"Yeah, but we should've wet him down a bit before Rennervating him. It was raining when we picked him up, remember?"
"Maybe. But it was a difficult enough job waking him and Obliviating and Confounding him from over here without worrying about the weather."
"Certainly, but he noticed. What if he puts it together?" Rosier said.
"He won't," Lestrange replied. "You saw him; he just went on his merry way. Chalked it up to overwork or something. Let's head back and give our report. I'm freezing my arse off here."
With that, the two wizards popped out of sight, and the only witness that would remember they had ever been there was the fox that was cowering inside a hollowed-out log near the large pine, hiding from the strange, dark-hooded figures that had suddenly appeared out of nowhere, bearing a third, whom they had propped up against the iron gates two yards away from where she hid.
Poking her small black nose out, the fox sniffed the air for danger. Sensing that it was gone, she manoeuvred her aching, gravid body carefully out of the log and lumbered along the ground and between the bars of the gate, hoping she'd make it to the forest before another of those two-legs came along. She'd intended to have her kits in the comfort and shelter of the log, but the area no longer felt safe. It smelt of wickedness.
She shivered and forced her weary legs to move onward.
Author's Note: The poem Albus thinks of in this chapter is W.B. Yeats' "The Second Coming" (1919).