It’s 1943, and both the wizarding and Muggle worlds have exploded into war. Eighteen-year-old Minerva McGonagall is brilliant and talented, with dreams of becoming the first witch in the Auror corps. Albus Dumbledore is famous, powerful, and haunted by his dark past. Their attraction to one another is unthinkable, inevitable, and dangerous, especially with Tom Riddle watching from the shadows.
Albus Dumbledore was sitting at his desk, marking essays, when he heard a gentle knock at his office door.
“Come in,” he said, entering an “A” in his notebook for Edgar Bones’s quite Acceptable essay.
“Miss McGonagall! This is an unexpected pleasure. Shouldn’t you be in Hogsmeade, enjoying a Butterbeer with some fortunate young man?” he asked when Minerva entered.
“I didn’t feel much like going this weekend, and I had some work to do.” Minerva wondered for the first time how much Professor Dumbledore knew about Tom Riddle’s interest in her. “I wanted to return the book you lent me, so I took a chance that you’d be here. I hope I’m not disturbing you, Professor.”
“Not at all. I fear that reading all these second-year essays has made me rather anxious for an interruption,” he said, indicating the pile of parchment in front of him. “Have you finished the book already?”
“Yes, sir. It was very stimulating. I thought Bonham’s Theory of Reciprocal Osmosis was especially elegant in its simplicity. I really appreciate your lending the book to me.”
“It’s most considerate of you to return the book so promptly. I thought you might find Bonham appealing, given your fondness for the writings of William of Ockham,” he said, teasing her.
She blushed, remembering the heated discussion she and Professor Dumbledore had had over the applicability of Ockham’s razor to magical theory—a ten-minute discourse that had had her classmates open-mouthed with bewilderment and had ended only when the class period was over and they all had to move on to their next lessons.
Observing her embarrassment, he added, “Your father was wise to include such a broad base of Muggle philosophy in your early education. I wish more of my students were familiar with Muggle scholarship; the prevailing bias against it does our society a great disservice, I believe.”
“Yes, sir, I quite agree,” she said. “It’s ridiculous to think that Muggles have nothing to add to our body of knowledge simply because they lack magical genes.” She stopped, the blush returning to her cheeks when she realised she was preaching to the choir. She decided to charge ahead with her real reason for seeking him out on a Saturday afternoon.
“Professor, if I’m not being too forward, have you had a chance to speak with Professor Falco about my beginning Animagus training yet?”
“Yes, Miss McGonagall, as a matter of fact, I had an owl from him this morning. I was going to talk with you about it on Monday, but seeing as you’re denying yourself the opportunity to obtain a new cache of Mr Zonko’s latest wares, we can discuss it now.”
“What did he say?” she asked, trying to keep the anxiety out of her voice. She had very much wanted to undertake the rigorous training to become an Animagus ever since she and Professor Dumbledore had first discussed the possibility during her career-advisory meeting with him at the end of her fifth year.
“Professor Falco is reluctant to take on such a young pupil for such advanced work.” Seeing her crestfallen face, he quickly added, “Now, now, Miss McGonagall. As you know, Animagus training is extremely difficult and very dangerous, even for highly experienced witches and wizards. Professor Falco is simply being cautious. I doubt he has ever given serious consideration to an application from an eighteen-year-old witch before.”
“I see, sir. Thank you for trying.” She tried not to show how disappointed she was. She had rarely been thwarted in pursuing any of her ambitions, and this rejection came as a particular blow. “I’ll let you get back to your essays, Professor.”
She had turned to leave when he said, “Wait a moment, Miss McGonagall, I hadn’t quite finished yet. I managed to persuade Professor Falco that you were an exceptionally gifted student and very mature for your age. I assured him that he would be running no undue risks in taking you on as a pupil. He has agreed to begin working with you in June, after your graduation.”
Her excitement couldn’t be contained. She squealed—a most un-Minerva-like sound—threw her arms around her mentor’s neck—an extremely un-Minerva-like gesture—and kissed his whiskered cheek. Realising what she had done, she dropped her arms and stepped back. This time her blush began at the top of her blouse, blotching her skin all the way up to her high cheekbones.
“I’m sorry, sir,” she said, “I’m just so grateful to you for your work on my behalf.”
“No need to apologise, Miss McGonagall,” he replied, amusement dancing in his eyes. “It’s all too rare that I receive such an enthusiastic thank-you from a student. However, I do have something more to tell you.”
“Professor Falco has agreed to teach you with the stipulation that you come to him having learnt the theory and the elementary practical exercises you will need to begin your training. He said he is already too busy to take on an absolute beginner, but I suspect the real reason is that he expects you to abandon your training once you get a taste of its rigours.”
She looked miserable again. “Yes, sir. But how can I meet that requirement? There are so few people who can teach even the basics of Animagus Transfiguration. I don’t think there’s anyone in Britain, other than Professor Falco. Certainly nobody in this area, anyway.”
“There is me,” he said.
Her eyes grew wider than he had ever seen them. “You, Professor? But you’re not an Animagus.”
“True. But I am well versed in the theory, and I have undergone practical training in the basics. To tell you the truth, I didn’t have the talent to continue with it. However, if I do say so myself, I am a reasonably competent teacher, and I suspect I can help you muddle through at least as much as I managed. You are, after all, far cleverer than I was at the time.”
She beamed with joy, both at the news that her Transfiguration professor would tutor her and at the very large compliment he had just paid her.
“Professor Dumbledore, I don’t know what to say or how to thank you.”
“You can thank me by working as hard at your Animagus training as you do at everything else, Miss McGonagall.”
“Oh, I will, sir.”
“I know you will. Now, we need to set a timetable for your lessons. There’s a great deal to accomplish before June, so I think we should plan to meet at least twice per week. I’m afraid I only have Tuesday evenings and Saturday afternoons available. Will that be agreeable to you?”
She was quiet for a moment. Saturday afternoons were when Quidditch matches were held. Meeting with her Transfiguration professor then would mean giving up not just her captaincy, but her spot on the team too.
He knew what was bothering her. “My dear, sometimes we have to make sacrifices to get what we really want in life,” he said gently.
“I know, sir. I just feel bad about letting down the team. We’ve been doing so well, and having to find a new Chaser and a new captain would seriously jeopardise our chance at the Cup.”
“That is a pity. But sometimes we have to ask others to make sacrifices as well.”
She made her decision.
“I understand, sir. I’ll speak to the team first thing tomorrow. They’ll need to hold tryouts before the Christmas holidays.” An idea struck her. “Sir, we could begin my lessons over the holidays! Without classes and Quidditch and everything else, we could meet every day and get a head start!”
“Won’t your family miss having you at home for the holidays?” he asked, surprised at her willingness to give up her time with her beloved father.
“Yes, sir, but as you say, sometimes we have to ask others to make sacrifices,” she replied with a wry smile. Then another thought occurred to her: “Oh, unless, of course, you have other plans for the holidays …”
She was mortified. She knew Professor Dumbledore didn’t usually leave Hogwarts over the holidays, but she didn’t know much about his private life. Was he married? She didn’t think so, but she couldn’t be certain. He might have a friend whom he planned to visit, or who would want to visit him at Hogwarts when there were fewer students around to gossip. She knew that if she were his lover, she wouldn’t want him spending his holiday at school tutoring an eighteen-year-old witch.
“Not at all, Miss McGonagall,” he said. He was quiet for a moment, as if deep in thought. He appeared to come to a decision. “If you are certain you’re willing to give up your holidays, I think we could begin our work next week.”
“Thank you, Professor. What time Saturday shall I come?”
“Why don’t you come after lunch, around two?”
“That will be fine, sir. Shall I meet you in the Transfiguration classroom, then?”
“No, no need for that. Just come to my office. We’ll need to spend the first few meetings talking. I’ll provide you with a list of the books you’ll need and the reading assignments.”
“Thank you, sir, I’ll look forward to it.” After a moment’s silence, she realised he was waiting for her to go. “Good afternoon, Professor Dumbledore,” she said, smiling at him, then turned to go.
“Good afternoon, Miss McGonagall.”
He watched her leave. When the door had closed behind her, he ran his hands over his beard.
What have you got yourself into, old man? he asked himself.
He was very much afraid he knew the answer.
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