The Sugar Quill
Author: Sweeney Agonistes (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Footprints on the Sands of Time  Chapter: Chapter One
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Part One

(Would you believe in a love at first sight?)

Yes, I'm certain that it happens all the time.

-John Lennon and Paul McCartney, "All You Need Is Love"

November 30, 1944:

I lifted my bow from the strings and stared at the first violinist. An incredible performance from her - I'd never known Medea to play that well. She shrugged and grinned at me; I grinned back. "Stand up!" she hissed. I did, as did she, the second violinist, and the cellist. We stared out at the wildly applauding audience, searching -

And there they were - Medea's and my parents, waving and looking horribly proud. I aimed a special smile at them and then followed my fellow quartet members off-stage, where, being careful of our instruments, we indulged in a jubilant group hug. I couldn't believe it - we'd made it through Cherrytree's Fifth Concerto, long considered the hardest quartet music written by a wizard, and almost impossible to play well without the Prestissimo Charm on one's fingers and bow. But we had done it, and we had done it justice. Breaking from the huddle, I laid my viola to rest in its case lovingly. I rose and turned around -

And there he was. He had said he would come, and Professor Dumbledore reached out and took my hands, looking pleased. "Minerva, my dear, that was simply phenomenal. And I notice you did it without any charms. You should be proud. Very, very proud." He beamed at me. I blushed and averted my eyes from him, only to see a young man standing next to my former Transfiguration professor. Professor Dumbledore saw where my eyes had gone and said, "Ah, yes. Minerva McGonagall, violist, meet Theron Dumbledore, researcher at St. Mungo's - and, incidentally, my son." Theron extended his hand and I shook it, inwardly marveling at his resemblance to his father. Theron had black hair, and Professor Dumbledore's was auburn, but other than that, it was quite obvious that they were related - especially when one looked at the eyes. They were the same piercing, slightly disconcerting blue.

Theron said quietly, "An excellent performance, Miss McGonagall. Quite impressive." He smiled at me, those blue eyes softening, and I blushed again. Except - oh, get a grip, Minerva. He had to be at least twenty-five, if not older. Much too old to be interested in a girl fresh out of Hogwarts - and a plain girl, at that.

Professor Dumbledore twinkled at me and said, "Minerva, if you're not doing anything right now, how about catching a cup of something at the Leaky Cauldron with us?"

Professor Dumbledore had come all the way from Hogwarts to see me perform. How could I say no? Especially considering that young Mr. Dumbledore would be obliged to come along with the two of you, teased a horrible voice in my head. I ignored it. "All right," I said. "I would be more than happy to join you. Just give me a minute -" I collared Medea on her way out the door and said, "I'm going out for a drink with Professor Dumbledore."

She nodded, both at my statement and at the professor. "I'll see you at home, then?"

"Right," I said. She left, and I turned back to the Dumbledores with a smile, which they both returned. Professor Dumbledore offered me his arm, and Theron walked at my other side as we left the WWN performance hall.

Professor Dumbledore said, "How does it feel to know that thousands of people were listening to you just now?"

I laughed and said, "It's quite a heady feeling. Although I must admit that being part of a string quartet was not exactly what I expected to be doing after Hogwarts."

Theron's voice was quiet and more thoughtful than Professor Dumbledore's light-hearted voice. I liked it. "And what did you expect to be doing, Miss McGonagall?"

"Oh, I don't know." I was hard-pressed to keep a tremor out of my voice. He was curious about me. "Perhaps Ministry work." We exited the WWN building and I shivered - the night was cold and clear, and my black performance robes, although rather becoming, were made of thin, fine silk. In one deft, graceful movement, Theron removed his thick, beautifully woven, and best of all, fur-lined cloak and put it on my shoulders. -Did he leave his hand on my shoulder for a bit longer than was really necessary? I said quietly, "Thank you." He smiled at me and turned into the Leaky Cauldron. As I followed him into the pub, I saw Professor Dumbledore smile into his moustache.

Paying our respects to the elderly coatrack, we hung up our outer garments, sat at a small table in the corner, and ordered three butterbeers, which were summarily delivered. I looked down at the table, not quite sure how to start a conversation. However, Professor Dumbledore began to talk about the merits of various Muggle composers, and we were soon engrossed in a most interesting conversation on that subject. Theron and Professor Dumbledore began a mild argument on Scarlatti versus Bach, and technical terms flew back and forth that were soon far out of my range of knowledge. I took that opportunity to study Theron.

He wasn't what one would term as handsome, but there was an indescribable - repleteness about him. Yes, repleteness. He radiated a certain amount of strength, but it was softer than his father's. I had the feeling that he controlled himself very well, kept himself under a tight rein. Then there were the eyes. They were my main hint that there was something under that polite, warm camouflage. Professor Dumbledore's eyes sparkled; Theron's positively crackled. There was an electric quality to them that told me - that told me -

Professor Dumbledore laughed and drained the rest of his butterbeer. "All right, Theron. Scarlatti was innovative; Bach was symmetrical. Do we agree on that much?"

Theron grinned - oh, his face lit up! - and said, "Agreed."

"Then we'll have to leave it at that. It's getting late, and I'm expected back at Hogwarts." He leaned over, kissed me on the cheek, and rose. "I see no reason why the two of you can't stay here and chat some, though."

Theron nodded and looked at me. "No objections in this quarter."

I swallowed and tried to disguise it by shaking my head. "None here, either."

Professor Dumbledore smiled and said, "I'll leave you to it, then. Theron, you take good care of her - she's the best Transfiguration student I've ever had." I flushed once more - drat my cheeks! "Minerva, my dear, you were simply wonderful tonight. A wonderful evening. Thank you." He pressed my hands in his and smiled at me.

Touched, I said, "Thank you so much for coming. It - it means a lot to me for you to have been here."

"Not at all. It was a true pleasure. And I will give your brother the full report. I'm sorry he couldn't attend."

"Me too - but he'll be all right. I know you'll tell him all about it, and be sure to give him my love."

"I will." He turned to Theron. "Now, I was not speaking lightly when I told you to take care of her. See her home. You both know what's been going on recently."

We nodded, and Theron said, "You have my word, Dad."

"Good," he said. He rested a hand on each of our shoulders and smiled. "I will see you both - when I see you." And he left. I wasn't sure, but I could have sworn he was smiling into his moustache again.

Theron took a mouthful of butterbeer and sat back in his chair. "You must have been a terrific student - Dad doesn't give compliments like that lightly." I blushed. Again. He said, "You have a brother at Hogwarts?"

I nodded. "Maimonides - he's a fifth-year Gryffindor."

"Any other siblings?"

"My sister Medea - she was the first violinist in our quartet. She graduated from Beauxbatons two years ago. She's very into French culture."

"And so you're the middle child?"

I nodded. "Yes."

"You don't seem all that odd to me." He smiled and had a sip of his butterbeer.

For once, I didn't blush. "We got along amazingly well as children."

"I've always wondered what it would be like to have siblings," he said wistfully.

"You're an only?"

"Oh, yes," he said. "Mum never wanted to have any more, and Dad had plenty of his 'children' at Hogwarts, so I was it."

I said, "I don't remember seeing you at Hogwarts." I would have remembered - how could I have forgotten? "Did you attend another school?"

"I believe I finished school the year before you arrived," he said.

I did some quick figuring. "Then that would make you - twenty-five?" My estimate from earlier.

"Twenty-six," he said, smiling. "I had a birthday last month."

That settled it. Too old for me - or for my father's liking, at least. "What is it exactly that you do at St. Mungo's?"

"I work with children who have been subjected to Grindlewald." His face took on a closed quality, and I knew why. The dark wizard Grindlewald had been kidnapping young witches and wizards and doing dreadful things to them - mutilating them, somehow sapping their magical abilities, subjecting them to torture so great that they went insane - and were sent to St. Mungo's so that research could be conducted on them to try and find some way to help them. Now that school was in session, Grindlewald had had to resort to taking ten-year-olds who were about to go to school, and fresh graduates - like me. Rumor had it that Grindlewald had created a more powerful variant of the Cruciatus Curse that would drive the victim insane after repeated use, unlike the old version that simply caused pain. It was cruel and horrible, and I was even more impressed by Theron than I was before. It took a gentle soul and a will of steel to keep going back every day, determined to find something to help those children.

Theron cleared his throat. "You know about my parents - what about yours?"

"Well - " I hesitated. "Mother was a nurse at St. Mungo's, but she had to quit to stay home with Father. He was injured - he's a Hit Wizard - in the attack on Grindlewald's first stronghold." Theron opened his mouth, but I forestalled his question. "He wasn't hit with the new Cruciatus, but Grindlewald shattered both of his legs and put some odd sort of poison in his system all at the same time. He's almost fully recovered, though - he's going back to work in a few weeks, as is Mother. Tonight was his first outing since it happened. Medea and I were so glad that they were there tonight." It was getting easier to talk to him. A good sign.

Theron smiled - at me! He smiled at me! - and said, "Miss McGonagall -"

"Minerva," I interjected.

His smile grew brighter. I nearly melted. "Minerva. My Uncle Angus is going to Majorca for a few weeks next Monday, and next Wednesday, the family orchestra meets. Uncle Angus is our viola player, and we really need someone. Will you come?"

Would I come? That was like asking if grindylows liked water. "I would be delighted," I said carefully. "What time - and where?"

"Do you live in London?"

"Yes - in the rooms above Flourish and Blotts." Medea and I shared the flat there.

"I get off work at five. I'll pick you up at six, and we'll have a quick dinner before we go to Weathervane." Weathervane? "Do you have your Apparition license?" I nodded. "Good." Theron pulled his pocket watch out and said, "It's close to midnight, and I have work in the morning. Ordinarily, I would ask if I could escort you home, but Dad made it pretty clear that he wants me to do it whether you want me to or not. You don't mind?"

"Not at all," I said, venturing a shy smile that he mirrored, if more confidently. He got up and went to the coatrack, waiting for me rise before he did so. He retrieved his cloak and settled it on my shoulders, closing the clasp with deft, lithe fingers. Like his father, he offered me his arm, and as I slid my arm into his, I reflected that walking and holding Theron's arm was a great deal different from walking and holding Professor Dumbledore's arm; Professor Dumbledore didn't give me that odd, warm feeling.

I could feel Theron's sinewy arm through the thick fabric of his robes. It made me feel secure, much like Professor Dumbledore had at school. Everyone knew that old Armando Dippet was nothing more than a figurehead, and when he retired, Professor Dumbledore would get the job of Headmaster. He was certainly Headmaster in everything but name, although too modest to admit it. Even teachers brought their problems to Professor Dumbledore before seeing Dippet, and what with Grindlewald looming on the horizon, he had the task of making everyone feel secure while getting at least a little education accomplished. He did it admirably well, and I knew that I was not the only student who went to him for hot chocolate and crumpets when they needed to talk.

Theron, even though I had only known him for a few hours, somehow made me feel the same way: that there was a purpose for everything; that despite Grindelwald, I was safe; that everything would turn out all right.

A shadow flashed in the doorway beside us; I instinctively moved closer to him, regretting the move the moment I made it. However, Theron removed his arm from mine and instead placed it securely around my waist. Once more, I blushed, although it was too dark to tell, thankfully. I was not accustomed to the attention of males. - He's too old for you, Minerva, get back in control of yourself.

We stopped in front of Flourish and Blotts, and Theron took my hands. "Minerva, I know that Dad's already told you how marvelous you were, but let me add to it - and thank you for this evening. He would never say so, but Grindlewald has really been worrying him. A first-year Ravenclaw was taken a few months ago - her mother was sick and Dad gave her permission to go see her. I've told him over and over that it wasn't his fault, but he still feels guilty. Being able to come to an evening of music, especially when performed by a student of his that made it and is still safe, did a lot for him."

"I - I'm glad," I said. I didn't know what else to say. It was disturbing to think that the rock of my school days could falter.

He smiled easily and continued, "That's also one of the reasons I'm glad that you're coming next Wednesday. Dad will be there, and seeing you will do him good."

"What does he play?" I asked curiously.

"The viola da gamba," he said.

"Do you not have a cellist?"

"No," he said.

"What do you play?"

There was that grin again. "I conduct."

I suddenly had a vision of a whole host of Dumbledores playing music with Theron at the helm. I liked it. He said, "Dad used to conduct, but he like playing better, and I wasn't good at any particular instrument, so I took over. Strangely enough, they all listen to me." He suddenly seemed to remember the time and said, "Listen, I'll see you next Wednesday at six, all right?"

I had become so intent on Theron's words that somehow I had forgotten that he was holding my hands. I couldn't find words, and so I merely nodded.

He smiled easily at me. "Good night," he said.

I managed to get my farewell out without squeaking. He released my hands and went down Diagon Alley. I went upstairs and collapsed into an armchair, mind reeling, suffused with feeling.

It was only as I was dressing for bed that I realized that I still had Theron's cloak.

I slept with it that night.

//
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