Minerva McGonagall was having a fine evening. She sat at the right hand of Albus Dumbledore in the Great Hall of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The first years had been sorted into their new houses, and there were several Gryffindors who seemed very promising.
The desserts that were the last thing to be served were just being finished off by the people around her, and she could see some of the students' eyes beginning to droop. Dumbledore stood up, and there was almost instantaneous silence.
He clapped his hands twice, and the remnants of the feast disappeared. He addressed the students; "I hope you have all enjoyed your meal. Now, Prefects will show the first years to the dormitories. The rest of you, off to bed!"
There was a great commotion as the students rose and began to troop towards the doors. The staff rose as well, but exited through a door at the side by the end of the table.
McGonagall bid her fellow staff members goodnight and climbed the staircase to her rooms, accessible by a hidden door in her office. She sat down at her desk and started in on a mountain of paperwork that needed to be done.
A while later, there came a knocking at Minerva's door.
"Come in," she called.
In strode Dumbledore, with a young woman following behind. She rose from her desk, her eyes fixed on the woman with him.
"I gather you are acquainted with Madame Jules, Professor," said Dumbledore.
"I am acquainted with a Mademoiselle Antoinette Giry, and this is certainly her," replied McGonagall.
Minerva moved out from behind her desk and both women stepped towards the other so that they met in the centre of the room. There Minerva took in Antoinette's haggard, and rather damp, appearance and gathered the young woman into her arms.
"Mademoiselle Giry has had a rather trying day," said Dumbledore when they separated, "May we sit down?" he asked, gesturing to a pair of armchairs by the fire.
"Of course," said McGonagall, dragging over a chair from in front of the desk. Dumbledore waved his wand once and a teapot with three cups and saucers appeared, floating in the air by the fireplace. Once the trio was seated, he poured out the steaming tea for the trio.
"Now, Mademoiselle Giry, why don't you give us your story, for I only received the information that was crucial to your admittance to the castle, and I am sure that Professor McGonagall is bursting with questions."
The young woman nodded and started in. "Well, Professor McGonagall knows that I am, was, a principle dancer at the Opera Populaire in Paris. The opera gained a new patron, and he took a particular interest in me. Less than a year later, we were married. But he was not the man I thought he was. He…abused me," she said, choosing her words carefully.
Here Minerva interrupted her. "Did he harm you?" she asked. The young woman looked down into her tea and did not respond, but her silence was response enough. Minerva's mouth became a very thin line, and she sat forward in her chair to place her hand on top of Antoinette's.
"How?" The unexpected question came from Dumbledore. He pitied this young woman, who was really barely more than a girl, and he wanted to help her in any way he could. And to do that, he needed to understand her and know what she was dealing with.
The young woman looked at Dumbledore, then at Minerva, then dropped her gaze to the cup in her hand again. She struggled to force the words out.
"He used me in different ways. You see, before his sister passed away everything was just fine. But then his sister's death was a sudden and unexpected shock. He took to drinking and became angry at the world, taking his anger out on me. Depending on the amount of alcohol he'd had, he might-" her voice broke. By now she had the other two concerned and anxious to hear what this man had done, for their imaginations were running wild.
"He might what?" asked Minerva.
"Please, it is not something that should be spoken of in polite company," said Antoinette.
"Then do not consider us polite company," Minerva insisted.
Antoinette took a deep breath. "Depending on how much he'd had to drink, and his mood, he could be very violent, and he has scarred me both mentally and physically. At the best of times, I might be fortunate enough to escape with only a few bruises. At the worst times he could… He might try to…"
McGonagall's eyes widened. "Did he try to…" she dropped her voice to a whisper, "force himself on you?"
Again, the young woman's silence was enough to assure them of the answer to the question.
"He took me away from Paris, to London. When he came home four nights ago in a rage, cracked an empty wine bottle over my head and left me for dead, I ran. Once I regained consciousness, that is. I jumped on a train, took a couple of carriages, and traveled the rest of the way on foot. I needed someplace he couldn't possibly find me, so I came here."
She looked up from her tea to see the disbelieving and slightly shocked faces of Minerva and Dumbledore. When no one spoke for a moment, Antoinette hastily said,
"Of course, if I would be an inconvenience, I'll leave at once, I wouldn't wish to cause anyone trouble-" she was cut off by McGonagall.
"No, no. There is no question about it. My dear, you must stay here! You would be no trouble at all, and you may stay for as long as you need. I would be more than happy to have you stay with me."
"Do you mean that?" asked a surprised Antoinette. It was astonishing to her that McGonagall would be so willing to take her in. She had been fully expecting to be turned out.
"Why wouldn't I?" asked Minerva.
"Well, I don't know. It's just that… Well, I'm so used to being lied to that your generosity has rather caught me off guard."
"Oh, you poor thing," said McGonagall in response to Antoinette's comment.
"Please, I am not looking for your pity, do not feel as though you have to give it."
"Well, I'm sorry, but you're going to get a great deal of it around here, even if you're very light-hearted about your situation."
"Hmmm. Well, it's nice to know people care," said the young woman.
Here Dumbledore broke in and said, "I think now would be the time to make my exit. I bid you goodnight, and Miss Giry, know that you are welcome to stay in this castle as long as you have need or want. Hogwarts is home to many, and there is no reason it should not be yours as well."
"Thank you Monsieur," she replied.
"Once Dumbledore had gone, McGonagall turned to Antoinette and said, "Now, you look like you could use something to eat and a hot bath."
"Oh yes, please," said Antoinette.
"Right then, we'll go down to the kitchens and see about some food then, shall we?"
Antoinette nodded, both women rose from their seats, and the two set off together.