And then we were there.
It was a round room, beautifully but eccentrically appointed, and it hummed with the whir and buzz of several curious instruments, all as complex and quirky as the headmaster himself. Portraits of various headmasters past lined the walls -- some women, I noted with dazed approval. An ornate desk took up much of the space: and directly next to the door perched an unusual bird, which I thought, with some shock, that I recognized.
"Is that -- ?" I said idiotically, and, discarding all semblance of polite behavior, pointed.
"That is Fawkes," Dumbledore said in my ear, and guided me into a chair before the desk, "and yes, he is what you think."
Undergraduate Mythology is going to be more useful than I'd thought.
Dumbledore crossed behind the desk to his chair, and I noted that he'd somehow changed appearance: gone were the blazer and trousers, and in their place were fantastical robes, with the moon-and-stars motif I'd seen on the tie; he'd lost the ponytail, and his fall of silverwhite hair now hung free, sweeping across his shoulders.
"You look," he said as he settled himself into his chair, "as though you should like to pinch yourself."
"It's not a bad idea," I said wryly, and shook my head as I continued to survey the room.
"'More things in heaven and earth' --?" he suggested delicately.
"Better that than 'Double, double, toil and trouble,'" I offered with a smile, which he returned.
"Good man, William -- appropriate quote for every occasion. He got it wrong about them, though," he said in all seriousness. "The Lady was the real witch, of the worst sort: those three were only gadabouts. They'd be sorted into Hufflepuff today, I shouldn't wonder. Oh, and I shouldn't mention that particular play to Severus -- Professor Snape, that is, our Potions Master," he added thoughtfully. "It rather sets his teeth on edge.
"Now," he said more briskly, "have a cup of tea and a biscuit while I explain a few matters, and then I'll call my deputy head to show you 'round."
I dutifully sipped at the cup that appeared from thin air at my elbow, and nibbled on one of the achingly sweet biscuits that accompanied it. (I am not a pushover, but there was something about the man that made me want to please him, damn it.)
"The position you would fill is Teacher of Muggle Studies. A Muggle," he continued before I could ask, "is a person from the outside world, such as yourself, who has no obvious magical skills or knowledge; one who may, in fact, deny that magic exists."
There it was: he'd finally said the M-word, and twice in one sentence.
"In fact, the wizarding world goes to great lengths to ensure that the two realities are kept separate," he continued. "Some Muggles know, of course -- several of our students are Muggle-born, like your nephew -- but, sadly, there is a regrettable tendency on the part of some wizards to take a superior attitude." He gazed at me, eyes sober under his snowy brows. "I expect you shall want to consider that in regard to your nephew's attendance."
I nodded for him to go on.
"When I became Headmaster I added Muggle Studies to the curriculum, but I fear it has not been a resounding success. The teaching has been nondescript and uninspiring."
"And you think," I chimed in softly, "that perhaps the genuine article might be more successful?"
He beamed at me. "Precisely. The genuine article -- very good, very good indeed. Due to recent developments, and an opening in the position, I feel it is time to go in another direction. Hire from outside the wizarding world, change the scope of the class -- which requires a new syllabus, of course." He shook his head disapprovingly. "The standard text, Home Life and Social Habits of British Muggles, is sadly out of date, I fear, and includes blatant stereotypes and misstatements. It is time to do away with it entirely.
"I should like, therefore, to work with you over the summer in developing a new curriculum -- broader, more diverse -- incorporating much of your liberal arts background and life experience." He leaned back in his chair, and gave me a moment to let it all sink in.
What he was proposing was astonishing for a first-year teacher (as if the entire situation were not astonishing enough). The chance to develop a new syllabus, tailored to one's own strengths -- that's a privilege usually reserved for senior faculty.
"It sounds quite ambitious," I told him, "and challenging, and fascinating." It certainly was, and I wasn't thinking just of the work.
I was rewarded with another beaming smile. "I knew you were a kindred spirit, Miss Hunter. You see? No, you shall not disappoint.
"Now, where did I --" and he began to rummage among the untidy piles of scrolled paper on his desk -- "oh, bother, it was right -- ah, here we are." He produced one which, to all outward appearances, was just like the others. "The contract normally runs from the middle of August -- allowing two weeks' time for preparations before the start of term, which begins September 1st -- until July 3rd of next year. I should like very much, however, if you could come earlier so we might work on the syllabus together at leisure. You would be compensated for the additional time, of course."
And then he launched into the particulars of holidays, benefits, salary in 'Galleons' -- which he assured me was quite competitive with the average Muggle teacher's salary -- as well as items more specific to my situation: Ian's tuition, room and board included as a benefit, as well as my own flat.
"Tailored to your requirements -- after all, we want you to feel this is home," he said with finality.
He stretched a long arm across his desk and handed me the scrolled contract. "Have you any questions for me?"
"I'm sure I will," I replied slowly, "when all this soaks in -- but I can't for the life of me think of one now."
"Give it a day or two," he said kindly, with a nod. "You can always reach me via Miss Climpson at the Department of Muggle Relations and Affairs. And if you choose to accept the position, all you need do is sign the contract. Miss Climpson will contact you to make the necessary arrangements."
The soft snick of the door latch and a rustle of robes behind me directed his attention over my shoulder. "Ah, Minerva. Come meet Miss Hunter. Miranda, this is Minerva McGonagall, my Deputy Head."
I rose and turned to greet the Deputy Headmistress: a slender, middle-aged woman in emerald robes beneath a standard black teacher's gown, dark hair pulled severely away from her face into a tight bun.
"Miss Hunter, welcome to Hogwarts," she said briskly, taking my hand in hers for a businesslike shake. "I'm pleased Headmaster persuaded you to pay us a visit." Her shrewd eyes summed me up, and with a tsk of annoyance she turned to Dumbledore.
"Albus, whatever have you done to the child? She looks as though she's seen the Bloody Baron," she reprimanded him.
"Nonsense, Minerva. Just the novelty of it all. Resilient as an India-rubber ball, this one -- she'll bounce back," he retorted mildly. "Professor McGonagall teaches Transfigurations, and is the head of Gryffindor House," he informed me.
"A pleasure, Professor McGonagall," I said with some of my usual spirit, and she smiled.
"Sugar shock, I shouldn't wonder," she said with a glance at the tea and plate of biscuits. "I'm surprised he hasn't been inflicting sherbet lemons upon you."
"I was saving those for her first staff meeting, Minerva," he responded gravely. She shot him a look of affectionate reproof, and then turned back to me.
"Well, shall we take a brief tour, then?"
I hastily gathered my handbag and the contract, stuffed them under my arm, and turned back to thank Dumbledore.
"Now, remember," he admonished me as he rose to see us out, "if you have any questions at all, you must feel free to ask. I do hope you will accept, my dear," he said earnestly at the door, and absently patted my shoulder. "I think you would find it fulfilling."
"Thank you, Headmaster. I will consider it very seriously." I smiled at him. "It's certainly the most interesting and unusual offer I've received, by far."
And with a gentle smile he ushered me out and closed the door.
"It's a bit much to take in all at once," I admitted. "Tell me: does everyone trust him immediately, or am I just particularly naïve?"
She gave me another shrewd glance. "The right sort do," she replied, and tapped at the door at the bottom of the stair, opening it. "There's far more there than absent-minded academic, however, no matter how convincing a performance he gave you," she added as we stepped into a corridor and proceeded to the left at a brisk pace.
"Yes, I got a glimpse of that too," I replied under my breath, and her thin lips twitched upward.
"No wonder you're shaken. An abbreviated tour, I think, and then I shall send you home for a good nights' rest. This --" she said as a huge pair of double doors slowly drifted open of their own accord to admit us, "is the Great Hall." And pulling a baton from her robes -- A wand, I mentally corrected myself -- she stated, "Lumos," and hundreds of candles floating gently in the air flickered to life.
"All meals and assemblies occur here -- nothing unusual, it's all on the Medieval university model," she said matter-of-factly, ignoring my obvious fascination with the fact that the ceiling appeared open to the sky, clouds tinted a golden pink by the setting sun.
"Faculty and staff at the Head Table, of course, and the Houses below -- Slytherin, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, and Gryffindor," she continued, pointing to each. "Our Food Service is quite palatable, I'm happy to say --"
"View-Hal-loo," someone drawled behind us. "And whose-little-girl are you?" Startled, I spun around to face a pleasant-looking gentleman in archaic clothing, looking me up and down. The fact that I could see the ancient, buttery stones of the Hall through his body did nothing to deflect my embarrassment at his frank interest.
"Really, Sir Nicholas," McGonagall scolded. "I hadn't wanted to introduce Miss Hunter to any of the resident spirits quite yet -- and wipe that disgusting leer from you face," she added severely.
He complied, literally -- he evidently had a pawky sense of humor -- and gave me a low, courtly bow. "Sir Nicholas deMimsy-Porpington, at your service," he said. "So you're the new teacher, then?"
"Pleased to meet you," I said with as much dignity as I could manage. "Possibly"
"And possibly not, between the shocks that you and Headmaster have given her today," McGonagall interrupted indignantly.
"A little shock is good for the system," Sir Nicholas shot back at her, and adjusted the ruff at his neck. "And anyway, surely she's accustomed -- oh, I say," he interrupted himself with a start, and stared at me with an entirely new kind of interest, quirking one ethereal brow, "she isn't, is she? By gads, so Dumbledore's finally done it, has he? He's been threatening to hire a Muggle for years," he confided to me.
"If you are quite finished, Sir Nicholas," McGonagall said sharply, "I need to show Miss Hunter a few more things and then get her home."
He sighed. "Oh, very well. Enjoy the tour, Miss Hunter," he called as he began to melt away into the stonework.
"Thank you --" I began, but he'd already disappeared.
McGonagall muttered something disparaging under her breath, and then said, "I do apologise. Sir Nicholas was quite the roué in his youth. He restrains himself with the students, but female faculty and staff over the age of twenty are apparently fair game. This way, please," and she led me out of the Hall and toward a flight of stairs.
"Quite all right," I said, shaken but ridiculously amused. "Though it's true it didn't do a thing to dispel my sense of disbelief. I'm afraid I may wake tomorrow morning convinced that this is a fantastic dream."
McGonagall snorted in a distinctly unladylike manner. "Or a nightmare," she observed dryly.
"No, I think not," I slowly replied, and followed her down the stairs and around a corner.
"This is the way to the Hufflepuff Common Room," she informed me. "Of course, we don't know yet into which House your nephew will be Sorted, but we thought perhaps you'd be most comfortable here. Professor Sprout, the Head of Hufflepuff, is quite congenial." She tapped on a thick, oak door, which opened itself to admit us into an airy flat.
"These would be your rooms." She stepped aside to let me explore.
Even without furniture, it seemed warm and welcoming. There was a large fireplace against one long wall, flanked with ample bookcases; wainscotting of a particularly dark, aged oak; many diamond-paned windows; and a set of French doors leading out to a small slate-tiled patio -- much like the one at my tiny Bayswater flat, but considerably nicer. It was exceptionally spacious, even for such an exceptional school, and I said as much.
"Headmaster feels it would be an easier transition for you and your nephew if you had familiar surroundings," she said matter-of-factly. "So you should feel free to send along any of your things that you like."
Her mention of Ian reminded me of something I'd intended to ask Dumbledore back in the interview room at the college (it seemed like ages ago, and the question had quite slipped my mind).
"Professor McGonagall, Headmaster said that I'd come to his attention through Ian," I said softly. "What did he mean by that?"
"When a child is born into the Wizarding World, their birth is noted in The Register," she explained promptly. "I check it at the end of each school year, and extend invitations for the next year to those who have reached admission age. Of course," she added, "when the child is Muggle-born, we initiate an investigation into his or her home life, to feel out how best to approach the parents in regard to our World." Her thin lips creased into a sincere smile. "Your somewhat bohemian background convinced us that we could take a more forthright approach with you, and that you might in fact be interested in the position, as well." Her crisp brogue softened slightly. "Given your dedication to your nephew, it seemed the best of all possible worlds that we could offer you both a place at Hogwarts."
She hesitated momentarily, and then continued with a note of warning. "It will not be easy, Miss Hunter, and not simply in terms of your nephew's adjustment. I am sure Headmaster told you that there will be some hostility. He can protect you from the Board of Governors, but not, I fear, from some of the more unpleasant students. Not to mention at least one of the faculty," she added under her breath. "But then, those prejudices are one of the reasons Headmaster would very much like for you to be here."
I appreciated her forthrightness and the spirit in which it was offered, and I thanked her for it.
"Here is your bedchamber," she said briskly as a change of subject, and crossed the room to show me, "and the bath --" she tapped at another door, revealing a decadently luxurious marbled bathroom, "-- and a smaller room, perhaps for your nephew, so he may be closer to you if the occasion warrants."
I was grateful for her tact. There would undoubtedly be occasions when it was necessary.
"You'll have a private office near your classroom, of course. And we thought perhaps a small kitchen there --?" She gestured to the opposite corner of the main room. "The House Elves can provide meals at any time, but faculty with children often elect to have their own resources. Or they did," she added softly. "Not that we've had any faculty families in the past thirty years."
House Elves: the mind boggled. I hate housekeeping. I wonder if they launder and wash windows, too. "You've had much more time to consider this than I," I replied, bemused. "It would suit admirably." They had, in fact, practically duplicated the layout of my flat; I uneasily shoved aside the worrying thought how they knew. There was something in McGonagall's last comment that would bear looking into as well, but now wasn't the time. I could always ask Dumbledore later.
"There is a slight problem regarding Muggle technology," McGonagall continued thoughtfully. "The wards which protect the premises interfere with electronics quite drastically -- I don't pretend to understand the Spatial Arithmancy involved -- but we are working on a way to reduce the interference and provide you with power, in these rooms, at least."
They'd anticipated everything, it seemed.
"Thank you, Professor," I said quietly. "I appreciate the lengths to which you're going."
My reticence obviously didn't bother her, for a slight blush rose to her cheeks and she smiled again.
"We could take a look at your classroom and view the Grounds, if you like -- though it's nearly dark -- but I suspect you've seen enough?" she hazarded, correctly.
"Quite enough, thanks. Perhaps I should take your advice and sleep on the decision."
She nodded approvingly. "As Headmaster probably told you, all you need do is sign the contract should you decide in our favor, and we will take care of the rest." She motioned me over to the fireplace, withdrew her wand, and with a soft "Incendio," she lit a blaze.
"This is highly irregular, you know," she confided. "We shan't always expect you to travel by Floo, but this was most expedient for today. I must admit, Miss Hunter," she went on, taking my hand, "that I do not always understand the workings of Headmaster's mind, but after meeting with you, I think he's chosen well." She gave my hand a squeeze, and then dropped it. "Now," she said briskly, tossing a bit of that mysterious powder onto the flames, "take a deep breath, state your destination -- be specific -- and off you go," and she stepped back to let me get on with it.
A deep breath was certainly advisable -- as I'd found the first time -- so I took one and firmly stated, "My flat, 848-B Leinster Gardens, London --"
--and stepped into the green flames.
Back to BNW Index
Besides the ubiquitous quotes from Hamlet and MacBeth, Dumbledore is referring, of course, to the three witches. This might also be construed as a reference to Terry Pratchett's Wyrd Sisters, although I doubt Granny Weatherwax would appreciate being Sorted into Hufflepuff.
'Oh, bother,' is, of course, Winnie-the-Pooh. Pooh is as addicted to sweets as Dumbledore, though he restricts himself to his Hunny Pot.
Sir Nicholas' "View-Hal-loo," line is a direct quote from the wonderful musical 1776. Ben Franklin, quite the ladies' man himself, sees the delectable Martha Jefferson for the first time (an entirely fictional encounter, but delightful). If you haven't seen the film, try (I recommend the new DVD release): just ignore the lyric "We say to hell with Great Britain," if you happen to be of that persuasion. The passionate and intellectual marriage of John and Abigail Adams is portrayed beautifully, based largely on their private correspondence with each other.