Chapter Twenty-Three: Lunacy's Companion
Slamming the door to his office to help him vent, Albus cursed the current Minister of Magic in his mind for the hundredth time that evening. 'How DARE he!' the headmaster fumed as he dropped a pile of folders on his desk and began to pace. 'How DARE he even suggest -.' The house elves, accurately sensing that this was not the right time for hot chocolate, Flooed a bottle of brandy up to the headmaster's office in response to his ordered, "Get me a drink" on his way through the school.
Snatching the crystal bottle out of the green flames, he moodily plopped down in an armchair before the fire. Albus had good reason for his uncharacteristic vexation. "How DARE he," he growled again.
He arrived at the Ministry of Magic at eight-thirty, conjuring a light wizard's robe to throw over his muggle outfit before entering. When he reached the minister's office, he opened the door only to find the shorter man hurriedly gathering his things to go home.
"Albus," he began, "Sorry I can't stay and go over these proposals with you, but I've got to run. If you could just look them over and get them to me tomorrow morning that would be splendid."
"Of course, Cornelius," he said, holding in another weary sigh and picking up the thick file labeled "Hogwarts".
"And that International Wizarding Association or whatnot's having another convention this year. You know they only do this thing once every seven years - we've got to be represented this year. I know You-Know-Who botched it up the last time, but I was hoping it wouldn't be a problem for you to attend."
Even as he reluctantly nodded, an inward groan was his silent submission to the request. He had completely forgotten about the Coalition meeting. That meant he wouldn't see Minerva or Harry until the end of August at the earliest. Cursing politics darkly, he tuned back in to Fudge's ramblings.
"Got to get home to the mistress, Albus," the minister continued, shuffling about his room in search of his belongings, and added with a chuckle, "But of course you know all about that, don't you old boy?" Albus stared at him blankly as he continued, "I must say, she's quite a catch. You wouldn't know with those robes she wears all the time, but she's a very attractive woman underneath it all. Pity she's taken. I'd say it's a good thing she works with you. Must make things that much easier, right old boy?"
Concentrating on keeping his breathing regular and refraining from dropping the file to fly across the room and throttle the man, Albus remained silent for a few moments before calmly correcting him, "Cornelius, you have been mistaken. Minerva McGonagall is not my mistress, she is a colleague and a good friend of mine. She is a woman of respectable repute and high moral values. As such, I do not appreciate your suggesting otherwise," he ended in a warning growl.
Fudge, never one to act tactfully or appreciate subtlety, rambled on, "Oh, come now, Albus, there's no need to cover it up. I'm not about to go blabbing to the entire wizarding world that you've found someone to keep your bed warm at night. Yes, yes, respectable woman and all that," he quickly added at Albus' glower, "But do you think there's any chance of -ahem- someone else swooping her up when the two of you are through?" he finished with a suggestive waggle of his eyebrows.
"Watch yourself, Fudge," Albus growled dangerously, fighting hard to keep the angry sparks from shooting out of his eyes and striking the man before him down dead.
Fudge paled slightly, then colored, a sheepish expression on his face as he sputtered an apology, "So sorry, Dumbledore, I meant no disrespect. Of course - yes, she's a fine woman - a respectable woman," he quickly corrected at Albus' glare, "It was wrong of me to have suggested such a thing - forgive me."
We are not seeing each other," he stated firmly, just barely keeping the menacing growl out of his voice.
"Of course not," he said quickly, "I mean, that- that would be improper, now wouldn't it?" he babbled nervously, edging closer to the door. "And besides, I mean, no - never could have happened. Of course not! Forgive me, Albus, I was out of line," Seething inwardly, Albus barely managed a curt nod in acceptance of Fudge's botched attempt of an apology. Taking heart in the fact that the powerful wizard in his office wouldn't kill him on the spot, Fudge hastily made a break for it, "Well, it's late, I must be going now. Thank you for taking a look at those proposals, Albus. Take as much time as you need. And don't forget about that wizard's convention. Umm. . . Good night!" Turning on heel, he all but bolted out the front doors.
'How DARE he.' Albus downed the rest of his glass of amber liquid. He was never one to brood, but there was no way he could help it tonight. About an hour later, he sensed someone climb the spiral staircase up to his office, but was in no mood to care.
"What is it, Marcus?" he called, trying to keep the snap out of his question.
Opening the door, the younger man entered and shut the door behind him. "Hagrid said the castle walls were humming," the tall wizard explained, "Wanted me to come check it out, seeing as how everyone else is on holiday and I was coming to check up on those cub nundus - they can get pretty edgy when left to their own devices." When the headmaster continued to glower into the flames, he questioned carefully, "Is everything all right, headmaster?"
Sighing, Albus replied, "Everything's fine, Marcus. You may go now."
"Right," Marcus said disbelievingly, taking a seat in the armchair opposite the headmaster, "That's why the entire castle was buzzing - literally. You know the entire school is tied to you. If you wanted to fume, you could have gone elsewhere and not given Hagrid such a scare." After a few moments of uncomfortable silence, Marcus pressed again, "What's wrong?"
"It was really nothing, just something Fudge said," he reluctantly admitted.
"Now what did he do?" Marcus asked crossly, knowing full well the possibilities of disaster the Minister of Magic posed.
Albus hadn't meant to say anything - it was a trivial matter, really, just his protective instincts being thrown into action. It was nothing, but he spilled the entire story to Marcus anyway.
Marcus stared at Albus quietly as he quickly recapped his conversation with the minister.
'Why that slimy little piece of -,' Marcus cut off that train of thought quickly. He wasn't a violent person, but thoughts of wrapping his good arm around the minister's neck and squeezing with all of his might were parading around his mind with the promise of satisfaction. He and Minerva had known each other since they were very young. She was like his baby sister, even though he only had a few months on her. His was the sole right to annoy her to no end and he did not take kindly to anyone looking at her in that particular manner. He had only put up with Kael because of Minerva's insistence (threatening) and had nearly hunted him down and beat him to a bloody pulp after he broke her heart. Luckily, he was still on the front line and couldn't very well desert, and by the time he came back from the war, the other man had passed on. To this day, he still had no idea what really happened, but over this past Easter, both Poppy and surprisingly Amanda, had assured him that Kael wasn't really the spawn of Satan. He had yet to be convinced. Now, with the Minister of Magic himself leering at his Minerva, his brotherly instincts were kicking back into high gear again.
He followed Albus' example and glared into the flames, trying to calm his angrily boiling blood. From the look on Albus' face, he was just as angered by Fudge's suggestion as the gray-haired professor in the armchair beside him.
'But hang on,' Marcus silently halted his furious mental bashing of Fudge, 'Why is he so mad about this?' Giving his head a shake, he tried to pull himself out of the conversation and resume his fantasies - talking to oneself was better left to professional nutcases (like Amanda). However, the question pounded on the back of his mind, demanding at the top of its lungs to be let out and answered.
'Fine,' he snapped at the persistent thought, 'Why is he so ticked off? Because Minerva means a lot to all of us, that's why. She's beloved,' he finished, ending the conversation.
'The headmaster is brooding, the annoying little voice (that suspiciously sounded a bit like Amanda) pressed, 'He never broods. Why is he brooding? Why doesn't he just twinkle at this and let it go like he does everything else? Why is he glaring at the fire like it's threatening his entire existence? '
'Because she's beloved?'
'That's the second dumbest thing I've ever heard in my life.'
'I cannot believe I'm having this conversation with myself. I'm not the crazy one.'
'But you like the crazy one.'
'Do not go there.'
'So the boss is brooding.'
'Yes, he is,' he agreed, thankful for the change of subject.
Looking at the facts, the best he could come up with was that Minerva was beloved. 'Beloved,' he said to himself, 'belove-,' he choked on the word silently, even as the little voice in his head sighed and muttered, 'finally'.
Albus was startled violently out of his irate reverie by a high pitched yelp, and snapped his head towards Marcus with an alarmed look on his face as the other man jumped up and clapped both hands over his mouth, staring at the headmaster in shock.
"Marcus," he started soothingly, trying to calm the younger man, "Are you quite all right?"
"I'm fine," the big man squeaked, then straightened quickly and cleared his throat. "I'm fine," he repeated, "I just remembered I didn't feed the kneazles. I've got to be going, Albus," he said, backing away towards the door, "Try not to entertain thought of killing Fudge for too long tonight - it might lead you to do something drastic. Just finish that bottle and go to bed. I'll come and check to see if you're alive tomorrow. Good night, Albus."
"Good night, Marcus."
Closing the door with forced calm, Marcus turned to the empty hallway and stared out the window at the end of the corridor. He was more confused than he had even been in his entire life. He didn't know whether to march back up to the headmaster's office and pummel him for even thinking that he might be good enough for Minerva or grin manically at all of this. Opting for a slightly more sensible middle ground, he made up his mind to bother an old friend with all the answers.
Groaning as she rolled over in bed, she pulled the pillow out from under her head and stuffed it over her ears, blocking out the loud pounding on her door.
"Amanda!" a deep male voice bellowed as the pounding continued on the door of her muggle flat. "Amanda! This is important! Don't make me blow this door off its hinges!"
Amanda gave an undignified snort into her pillow in response to the threat - not particularly caring that his voice sounded a bit panicked as it was well past one o'clock in the morning. A thunderous bang sounded through her apartment as the wards disintegrated and her front door shot across the living room and into her open bedroom. Tumbling out of bed with a yelled curse, Amanda thumped onto the floor as Marcus summoned her door back and quickly fixed the entryway.
"You were right!" he said breathlessly as he turned to face her, "You were right about him! I thought you were insane, but you were right!" He ignored her furious, but sleepy, glare and stared at her - still not knowing whether to beam like an idiot or let loose his explosive temper.
Rubbing her eyes with the back of her hand, Amanda shook her head and groggily tried to make sense of what her old friend was prattling about. Looking down, she realized she wore only an old pair of faded purple boxers and a matching threadbare shirt. However, she decided she was too tired to care and turned her attention back to her immediate problem.
'I'm right?' she thought to herself, her tired mind still trying to process his nearly incoherent babble. 'I'm right,' she repeated, slowly regaining consciousness, 'I'm right. I'm-.'
"YES!" she yelled, finally piecing together, "I told you! I told you I wasn't crazy!" With a triumphant war whoop, she threw herself onto him and choked him in a fierce hug laughing manically.
'Backup has arrived!' she mentally screamed even as Marcus pried her arms off of his neck and tried to still the bouncing little witch.
"I don't like it," he said resolutely, his serious demeanor immediately wiping the ecstatic smile off of her face.
She stood before him in silence for a few moments, unable to process the fact that backup had indeed arrived, but it was mutinying against her. Suddenly, she stamped her foot and gave an angered shriek, "NO!"
"Don't' tell me no, Amanda," Marcus snapped back at her, "They cannot be together."
"Why?!" she yelled furiously, "Give me one good reason why the bloody hell this won't work."
Meeting the witch's glare with one of his own, he remained silent.
"She's a big girl, Marcus," the petit woman said firmly.
"He's too old for her."
With an unladylike snort, she conceded, "That's what I said when Poppy pointed all this out."
"Poppy came up with this?"
"She didn't 'come up' with anything. This was there. It just took us a very long while to notice it."
Bristling, he tried to keep the growl out of his voice as he questioned, "And just how long has this been going on with him?"
With a sigh, Amanda slumped over to her couch and fell backwards over the back of it. She lay flat on her back on the cushiony seat with her legs leaning against and over the top as she stared at the ceiling. Marcus flopped over the back of the couch to mimic her position beside her.
"I don't know," she said quietly. "I know it couldn't have started while she was with Kael," she ignored Marcus' low growl at the mention of the former soldier, "And I don't think it was during her first few years after . . . him."
"Well, that narrows it down," he snapped irritably, "So this could've happened anywhere between 1950 and now."
"This is crazy."
"I know! But isn't it perfect?"
Marcus harrumphed at this.
"Just because it's taken you six months of me shoving it under your nose to realize it doesn't mean that it's any less perfect," she shot back tartly, then continued in a more serious tone, "He loves her - I just know it."
"Yes, he does."
"And she loves him - she just hides it much more effectively."
"Are you sure about that?" he asked skeptically.
"Positive," she affirmed. "So are you in or are you out?"
"In or out of what?"
"You know, only you can make an innocent statement sound so dirty."
Sighing, he commented, "I hate it when you're in the crazy stage of being tired - you're even worse than normal then."
An aggravated scream echoed through the castle.
"This is NOT happening!" a female voice shouted, the sound of tinkering glass accompanying her screech.
"Amanda," a male voice sighed, "This is hardly the end of the world."
The two figures were in the deserted headmaster's office, one slumped dejectedly in an armchair before the fire while the other waved his wand at a pile of glass shards that was once a magnificent globe. Amanda re-read the note left on the headmaster's desk in familiar loopy handwriting.
I forgot to mention last night that Fudge has asked me to represent the British Wizards at the Coalition this summer. I am leaving early this morning so I can say good-bye to Harry before I go. I will be in Singapore until August 25 if all goes well. I'll see you then.
"An entire summer in China for some bloody stupid international schools'. . . thing," she muttered darkly.
"It's the convention of the International Wizarding Coalition and it's in Singapore."
"Stop it," he snapped, "This is important. Besides, there's always next year. It's not like either of them is going to go and vanish off the face of the earth."
"They might as well," she grumbled.
"Stop being stupid. There will be plenty more chances for you to commence your countless 'flawless' schemes later. For now, we wait."
"I hate waiting."
"I'm well aware of that."
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