Chapter Twelve: Prodigal Son
Minerva had been wanting to take a look at her new transfigurations classroom, but hadn't gotten a chance until three days after her arrival. So, as soon as she got away from the "welcome back"s from the other staff members who had arrived in increasing numbers over the past few days, she and Harry made their way back to the transfigurations wing. Harry bounded in and out of open classrooms until he came to a set of large double doors that were too heavy for him to push open.
"Ma, what's in there?"
"I think you've found my new classroom," she replied as she pushed the door open.
The room was lit by large glowing white stones set in the wall at foot long intervals along the corners of the ceiling, making the entire room bright as day. In the front of the room was a platform, raised about six inches off the ground, on which sat a very large, sturdy desk. Fourteen double desks stood before the platform in two neat rows, seating a maximum of twenty eight students.
'Twenty eight students,' she mused quietly, 'That's ten more students in each class.' Of course, there would be some classes were there would be less than that, but twenty eight was still a large class, especially for a private school.
A large blackboard took up most of the wall behind the teacher's desk and low bookshelves covered the wall below it. A number of single shelves were attached to the wall at varying intervals. The room was depressingly bare, waiting to be arranged. A large pile of boxes took up half of the back wall, covering it from one corner to the door.
Minerva walked down the broad middle aisle and stepped up onto the platform. Taking a seat in the deceptively uncomfortable-looking chair, she leaned back and gazed over the classroom. Harry took a seat in the front row and looked up at her expectantly.
"Now what?" he wanted to know.
"Now we see your ma turn into the strict Professor McGonagall we all know and love," Amanda said from the doorway. Minerva gave her a patented stern glare and the other woman laughed. "See?" Harry giggled and ran to Amanda who said, "Come on, let's go have another look at the library. There're a few Quidditch books I think you might like. We'll just leave you to bask in teacher-mode," she said to Minerva, "You need to practice," as she winked and led Harry out the door.
Shaking her head, she allowed herself a small smile. "Teacher-mode," she said wryly. Summoning the boxes from the back of the room, she arranged them around the desk and brought one of them onto the top. Opening the first one, she found an array of books, many of which she had been in her classroom before she left. Looking through them one by one, she lost herself to memories of teaching. She remembered the students' rapt attention on their first day of classes. She remembered the pride she felt as they eventually succeeded in transfiguring their first turtle into a teapot. She also remembered the blank looks on many of their faces as she explained animagus transformations to them. She remembered the looks of horror on the faces of the fifth and seventh years as they realized that they would indeed be taking their O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s at the end of the year. So caught up in her thoughts, she didn't register another person in the room until he cleared his throat before her desk.
Startled, she looked up into a pair of twinkling blue eyes. "Albus," she acknowledged and continued to rummage through the papers and books.
Twinkling, he commented, "I was under the impression that you may need some assistance and I have come to offer my services."
Grinning slightly, she advised him to make himself comfortable and placed a rather large box before him. They worked in a companionable silence for a few minutes, browsing through old texts and sorting through miscellaneous papers.
"Albus?" Minerva ventured, itching to ask an important question that had been bothering her for a very long time.
"Hmmm?" he replied, not looking up from his work.
"Have you heard from Remus Lupin lately?"
The headmaster looked up sharply, and met the searching eyes of his transfigurations teacher.
"I received a brief letter from him informing me that he was leaving the country. That was right after he heard of Sirius' betrayal."
"And nothing since?" she pressed.
They fell into silence again before Minerva explained, "It's just that Harry has only ever heard about his parents from a teacher's point of view. He doesn't know what they were like as friends, only students." Albus remained silent, absently leafing through a particularly thick stack of papers. "He needs to be here for Harry. He's the last of his father's friends and I know James would want him to be here, to tell Harry about him and Lily. And the infamous Marauders," she added as an afterthought.
Minerva studied the heamaster's face, looking for anything that might give away the fact that he knew where the lone werewolf could be found. She hadn't bothered voicing her own worries about the boy, now man, who had disappeared from her life five years ago. Then she saw it, a brief flash of regret and sorrow that overshadowed the twinkle of his eyes. "Where is he Albus?" she demanded, none too gently.
"I am not at liberty to say, Minerva, he specifically requested for you not to be informed."
"Oh really?" she said critically, "And why, pray tell would he request something like that? Could it possibly be because of the urging of a certain bearded headmaster?"
Albus cracked - he could never hold his own during one of Minerva McGonagall's interrogations. "He came to me the night after you took Harry. Peter had been killed, Sirius locked up, and he didn't know what to do." He paused, unsure of how to continue. Vouching for the truth (she would find out anyway), he pressed on, "He was frightened and angry, filled with a keen sense of guilt and betrayal such as I had never seen before. He wanted to leave, to run away from all of the. . . pain. I told him to go, but to come back when the pain had lessoned and to send frequent owls."
"And?" Minerva demanded when Albus paused for a second too long.
"And he has not complied with any of my requests," Albus finished, meeting her gazed defiantly.
"Do you take me for a fool, Albus?" she questioned in a deadly whisper, her voice gradually rising to a normal level, "You know exactly where he is. Or do you really expect me to believe that one of the men that respected you more than anything just cut you out of his life? Like he did me?" she finished, her voice cracking with emotion.
Sighing, Albus said, "He asked me not to tell you. And, no, it wasn't because of me," he said, cutting her indignant retort off.
"Why?" she whispered, trying to mask the hurt that threatened to overwhelm her.
Remus had been like a son to her. When he had first come to the school, he was a scared, quiet first year, terrified that at any moment his deepest secret would be found out. She had stayed with him during his first few transformations, keeping him company in her animagus form. After that, the war with Voldemort grew more and more intense, and Minerva was unable to stay for every single one of his transformations. Still, they remained close. He confided in her when he thought his new friends, James Potter, Sirius Back, and Peter Pettigrew would figure out his secret. They found out eventually, and remained his friends, even going so far as to perfect their transfigurations skills so they could keep him company, as Minerva discovered one full moon during their sixth year.
Seeing as how it was one of her first free nights on the full moon in a very long time, she had decided to surprise her pupil with a visit. However, she found that a stag, a dog, and a small rat had beaten her to it. She watched them play from a distance, proud of her students for mastering human transfigurations so well, and bursting with thanks on Remus' behalf. These feelings thankfully overwhelmed her rage at having them out and about with a werewolf, but she reasoned that they weren't parading around outside of the school grounds and wouldn't harm anyone. She let it slide, thinking 'boys will be boys'. Since graduation, he had kept in touch with her, but after the deaths of Lily, James, and Peter, and Sirius' imprisonment, she had lost all contact.
Albus knew of the bond the two had formed and stated quietly, "He didn't want you to be disappointed."
"Disappointed?" she asked in disbelief, "Why on earth would I be disappointed? He didn't betray Lily and James, he didn't kill one of his best friends!" she exclaimed, jumping up out of her seat and shaking uncontrollably.
"He ran," the headmaster replied, rising from his seat and coming to stand beside his friend. Putting a calming hand on her shoulder, he continued, "He ran away instead of staying to battle his demons - he didn't want you to be disappointed."
She turning to look at him, a helpless expression that was rarely seen, and never seen by anyone but him, took over her features. Her eyes were bright with held back tears and a haunting look of complete helplessness and vulnerability filled her usually strong, stern, and certain irises. Unable to stand by and wait for the look to dissipate, Albus drew her into a hug and gently rubbed her back in calming circles, whispering words of comfort into her ear. Minerva barely registered the gentle "it wasn't your fault" and "he needed to get away" and "he loves you so much, he didn't want to see you disappointed." Instead, she remembered each roguish half-smile the boy she knew flashed at her after his detentions were finished and buried her eyes in Albus' shoulder. Silent tears fell down her cheeks in regret and guilt. They stayed like that for a few minutes, her hands against Albus' chest as he held her. For those few minutes, it was like nothing had changed.
Minerva pushed away awkwardly, unsure of how to proceed from that place. Then Albus passed her a soft handkerchief and said, "He's in Quebec. He moved there six months ago." Nodding, she sniffed and wiped the tears from her face. "There's still two weeks until school begins," he pointed out, "And portkeys to Quebec are surprisingly easy to come by."
Giving him a small smile, she passed back the soggy handkerchief, which he dried with a quick charm. "I think he would be happy to see you," he said quietly as he drew a piece of parchment out of his pocket and pressed it into her hand. Then, he turned and left, sweeping through the double doors of the classroom to leave the witch alone.
Opening the folded piece of parchment, she grinned wryly and thought to herself, 'He knew I'd beat it out of him.'
The twenty-fifth of August saw Minerva McGonagall standing outside of a warm, inviting pub in the middle of the wizarding district of Old Quebec City. Looking at this section, muggles saw nothing but a sheer cliff face that abruptly dropped off into the river below. Little did they know that the cliff was an illusion. There was a drop, but it was only about twelve feet down, with magnificently carved marble staircases, much like the Spanish Steps in Rome, leading down from the top at ten block intervals. The steps led down to a bustling, cobblestone street that stretched along the cliff face for at least a mile. Shops and restaurants stood against the cliff in a quaint little line, their old world fa硤e well kept and welcoming. The street was as wide as the stairs were tall and were roped off at the edge of the real drop of the cliff.
Minerva stood before L'h?lerie du Cheval Caracole, taking in its warm appearance and steeling herself for what promised to be an uncomfortable reunion. Taking a deep breath to calm herself, she opened the door and stepped inside. Her eyes were immediately drawn to a young, handsome waiter patiently taking the orders of an elderly magical couple as her breath caught in her throat.
" * Non. . . non. . . non. . . Ah oui, nous voudrions le poisson, s'il-vous-pla puis. . . quoi d'autre?" the elderly wizard turned to his wife. Minerva nearly grinned at the barely concealed look of exasperation on the waiters face as he patiently waited for them to finish their order. Feeling a gaze on him, the young waiter looked up and blanched as his pale blue eyes met Minerva's dark ones. Excusing himself from the still debating couple, he waved a fellow waiter over and thrust his pad of paper and short quill at him. Informing the other man that he was taking a short break, he quickly came up to Minerva, grasped her elbow firmly, and steered her out of the inn through the side door into a short alleyway between the buildings.
"How did you find me?" he demanded quietly.
Minerva, relieved at having found him alive and well stood still, silently regarding the young man before her. The barest hint of crow's feet branched out from the corners of his eyes - eyes that used to be a bright, inquisitive blue, now a mere shadow of color and emotion. Lines of worry and of age were beginning to settle around his jaw, and his hair had much more gray in it than before. She reached a trembling hand up to touch his face, but he jerked away, grabbing her hand and forcing it down.
"How did you find me?" his voice was a deadly whisper. Hard blue eyes met pained black as he released the captive hand. They were little more than a foot apart, and the tension was building, beginning to suffocate them. The older witch couldn't take it anymore and flung her arms around the man's next, holding him close as the tears flowed down her cheeks.
"You're alive," she whispered. As soon as she wrapped her arms around his neck, Remus Lupin had tensed. It had been so long since he had seen this particular witch, and even longer since she had demonstrated this much emotion in front of him. Realizing that the vice-like grip on his neck would not be released for some time, he relaxed, and tentatively wrapped his arms around the woman. They stood like that for a few moments until the woman pulled back.
Remus, thinking all was well, was caught completely off guard by the hard, resounding slap across his face, accompanied by an enraged yell, "How could you do this to me?!" Never one to understand a woman's violent change of moods, he stared at her as she continued to rant, "Five years without ANY word! Not from you, not from Dumbledore! I had no idea if you were alive, if you were safe, if you were injured! You could've died and I would've never known! Letting me think you had vanished off the face of the earth without a trace! How could you?!"
And then, without any warning, she flung herself on him again. This time, Remus didn't hesitate, but wrapped his strong arms around her and spoke to her gently, "Professor? Minerva, ssh, it's all right. I meant to write, I just. . . I didn't know what to say."
"You could have said anything," she whispered.
"And what would you have said about one of your own Gryffindors running away?" he asked, "What would you have done if I told you I couldn't take the pain?" She didn't answer immediately, but pulled away and looked him square in the eye.
"What would you have done in my place?"
Remus didn't know what to say to this and pulled the woman into another hug. She wrapped still trembling arms around his waist and closed her eyes as she leaned her forehead on his shoulder. "Harry's been asking about you," she said after a while.
She felt him tense at the boy's name, stepped back and explained, "He sees you in nearly every picture of James." When he remained stonily silent, she continued, "Why didn't you think of Harry? He needs someone there to tell him about his parents. What they were really like as people, not just as students."
"He looks just like James, doesn't he?" he asked quietly.
"Yes, he does," she replied, "but he has Lily's eyes." They stood in silence again until Minerva ordered, "Now, seeing as how you are welcome back to Hogwarts at any time, I expect to see you there by the time Christmas comes around, understood?"
Shaking his head and grinning wryly, he replied, "Yes, Professor McGonagall."
"It's so good to see you again, Remus," she said reaching up once again to touch his face. He leaned into her hand rather than recoiling. However, after a moment, he grabbed her hand again and turned it palm upwards, examining the soft calluses.
"My dear Professor McGonagall, what have you been up to?" he asked, eyeing her for further changes. He saw them all then, from the silver streaks in her slightly lighter ebony locks to the bronze glow of her skin.
She snatched her hand away from his inspection and said, "Visit by Christmas and maybe I'll tell you."
Throwing up his hands in mock defeat, he gave her his patented half- smile and replied mildly, "As you wish, Madame." Pausing, he studied her face, then quietly said, "I really am very sorry I put you through all of that."
"It's in the past," she said, giving him a rare smile.
"Well, in that case, come have something to eat, I'll bring you up to date about everything that's happened," he said as he opened the door and bowed her inside.
(* Translation of French: "No. . . no. . . no. . . Oh yes, we would like the fish, please, and. . . what else?")
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