Summary: The Board of Governors is uneasy over Albus proposing Minerva to become his deputy and successor. Two unmarried people working so closely together is simply not proper. The Governors have a solution. Minerva is presented with a list of prospective husbands-to-be. Will she accept the list or not? How exactly does Albus feel about it?
Disclaimer: All HP characters belong to JK Rowling. This story is meant for entertainment purposes only.
Falling Into an Arrangement
The hearth fire in the headmaster's office blazed a vivid green. A tall, spare man of moderate age emerged from the fire. He brushed the soot from his well-cut dark blue robes and then smoothed down his wavy brown hair. He was clean-shaven with a pleasing if not memorable face. As if on cue, a houself appeared bearing a tea service and biscuits.
"Thank you for seeing me on short notice, Albus," said Cecil Marchbanks extending his hand to the older man.
"I sensed some urgency in your note. What is this all about?" Albus motioned to the house elf to place the tea service on his desk.
"Term is about to start and you are a busy man. I will come to the point. " Marchbanks eyed the piles of parchment and books on the headmaster's desk. "The Board of Governors met some weeks ago to discuss Hogwarts faculty and staff as we do every year." Marchbanks cleared his throat and took a deep breath. "This year one of your staff is of particular concern."
"Cecil, I have yet to choose a DADA teacher and furthermore -"
"I am speaking of Minerva."
Albus' astonishment was clear in his face and eyes. "Minerva?"
"She has been on faculty for four years now and head of Gryffindor for the last two years. You have proposed making her your deputy starting this next term. We have no qualms with her qualifications for that role, nevertheless, we find that she is lacking in -"
Albus leaned forward. Marchbanks nearly recoiled from the intensity of the headmaster's gaze. "She has been more or less my deputy this past year. When Olsen took ill, she resumed his duties at my request."
"There is no need to -" Cecil spluttered.
"She is an asset to this school and has performed superbly in all things asked of her." Dumbledore stood up and moved to the front of his desk. He sat on one corner of the desk and stared down at his visitor. "Who has been saying otherwise? If anyone has concerns, why have I not been consulted?"
Cecil loosed the top buttons of his tunic. Though the headmaster's countenance was bland, he was radiating so much energy the hairs on Cecil's forearms were standing on end. He could feel beads of sweat sliding down his spine. "Albus, please, calm yourself. Let me explain fully."
Dumbledore crossed his arms but did not move from his perch on the desk. He fought to keep his face composed but his hands clenched into fists.
"We only seek to forestall any perceptions of impropriety that may arise once we announce her new position."
"Her character and integrity are beyond dispute."
"We agree without reservation. However, her marital state or lack of one is disturbing."
"I am unmarried, Cecil. No one has ever made comment on it."
"Of course not. After Grindelwald and all that, you are the exception." Cecil fidgeted in his seat. "We are only thinking of Minerva's wellbeing, her reputation. Do you have any idea of what gossip will swirl once her new title is announced? People will begin to speculate. She is an unmarried woman working with a man known to be well settled in his bachelorhood."
"Such talk is of no consequence."
"Minerva is a fine teacher and head of house, an exemplary administrator, but, Albus, you forget that she is a woman first. Her family is dead. She has no siblings about to aid her. Who can shield her from cruel words or social slights?"
"She can come to me."
"Oh, yes, and then the whispers will grow louder, more insistent. An unmarried, independent woman living in close quarters with you and every other single male staff member."
"Preposterous! No one who knows Minerva would ever ... ever think that she -"
"Those who know her do admire and respect her. But those who do not, well, they will make assumptions and there it will start."
Albus moved to sit in his chair again. "Cecil, it has been four years. Why raise this concern only now?"
"The position as your deputy and expected successor is not a trifling matter. The Ministry and the parents of our students will expect absolute respectability." Cecil poured himself some tea. "Most headmasters and headmistress come with a background of great achievement in their field. By the time they assume their position at Hogwarts, they are a known quantity. Such is not the case with Minerva."
"I see. Her family's known contributions to our society matters not. Her years as an Auror are of no account even as she is the benchmark against which all modern Aurors are compared. Do her magical gifts mean anything, anything at all?" Albus spat out his sentences. "She could have accomplished more after her retirement from the Ministry but she preferred to look after her ailing parents in their last years. Do you mean to hold THAT against her, too?"
"Albus, we ... I am on your side and Minerva's. All the governors agree that she is the only one for the job. But knowing and assuring that she IS your successor are two different things." Cecil retrieved a rolled parchment from inside his robes. "There is only one way to make that hope a reality."
Cecil handed the scroll to Dumbledore. The headmaster unrolled it and scanned it quickly. "I do not understand, Cecil. Do all these people object to Minerva assuming the deputy position?"
"No, Albus, quite the opposite." Cecil chuckled. "We, the governors, agree unanimously that the best solution all around is for Minerva to marry, or at the least be appropriately engaged. You hold there a list of every eligible man deemed by the governors to be ideal, potential husbands for Minerva."
"That's rather highhanded of them." Albus remarked still perusing the list. There were some twenty names on the list.
"Does she have a ready suitor, a serious beau? If so, we would simply advise an acceleration of their, ah, nuptials."
"I do not believe that she has a serious suitor. Given that, do I understand correctly that she would be expected to ... to get to know these men and choose one who will suit? Assuming, that is, if any of these men would consent to such an arrangement."
"To a man, each expressed their willingness, if not eagerness, to marry Minerva."
"In your eyes Minerva is a teacher and trusted friend, but Minerva is not without her admirers, Albus. She needs not her outward beauty to attract for the years have only enhanced her wit, grace and elegance. As such, Minerva would bring many desirable attributes to any marriage."
"That may be," Albus said. He put down the list and took off his spectacles. "Pray tell, what would these gentlemen bring to the marriage? Marriage is for life. Minerva may find herself shackled to a most unpleasant and -"
"Rest easy on that matter, Albus. The female governors composed that list. I am told that they were quite selective in their criteria. Everyone on the list is close to her in age, pleasing to the eye and the mind and have interests in common with her. She is acquainted to some extent with most of them."
"You are on this list, Cecil."
"We were head boy and girl together. We got along famously. We still do. My mother is strenuously supporting a match between us."
"Your courtship is a gross conflict of interest, Cecil."
"That may be but my name will remain on that list. I see no reason why an arranged marriage need be distasteful or unbearable for either party."
"Is this the only solution?" Albus rolled the scroll and let it fall on to his desk.
"She may choose not to take on a husband but gossip will not be kind. If anything, I think society will grow more unforgiving as time goes on. You must realize that were Minerva to remain unmarried, there may be allusions to a ... an inappropriate relationship between the two of you. Perhaps not immediately but certainly rumors will swirl about."
"There will be no slander as there is nothing of substance between us. I have never been involved with a colleague."
"Albus, you may face such lies with equanimity but think of Minerva. Though she may say that rumors are of no account to her, I do not believe that is what she would feel in her heart." A small clock on a low table beside Cecil chimed seven times softly. "Ah, time for dinner. May I stay, Albus? Then afterwards we can discuss this matter with Minerva?"
"I feel I must warn you that she will not like this, not at all." The two men stood and made their way to the Great Hall.
In the Great Hall, the faculty ate and made merry catching up on each other's summer holidays. They were quite unaware of the drama brewing in their midst. Cecil and Minerva sat next to each other and throughout dinner reminisced about their schooldays. A few chairs to her left, Albus could not help but glance in her direction every time she laughed out loud. He so rarely heard her laugh.
Well, Cecil is wasting no time at all, he thought to himself. He carried on conversations with Professor Flitwick on his left and Madam Pomfrey on his right. The mediwitch had come early to stock up the infirmary and help their potions professor to brew some healing draughts.
"Who is Minerva's guest, Albus?" Madam Pomfrey inquired.
"Cecil Marchbanks is not her guest at all." Albus sliced into his roast with deliberation. "He and I had a meeting earlier. He decided to stay on for dinner."
"She must know him well, Minerva is not often so relaxed around someone, especially a man."
"They were head boy and girl in the same year here."
"That would explain it. I just thought that ... no, never mind."
"Never mind what?"
"It's nothing, Albus."
"You know that Minerva is my deputy starting this year, Poppy. If there is anything the matter with her I need to know."
"It's personal. It has no effect on her job at all." Albus fixed a look of such intensity at her that the mediwitch felt a bit unnerved. "Oh, very well. I thought he was one of her callers."
"Now, Albus, I know it's against policy to bring gentlemen callers here during the school year but, truly, school has not started yet so you should not hold it against her."
"You make it sound as if she has callers often." Albus refilled both their goblets.
"Not many but the ones she has she usually confines to outside the school term. Though I do think she's had so much to do the last few years that dating has taken on a low priority for her. Until last week that is."
Albus' spoon paused in midair. "Last week?"
"We were in the staff room and a horde of owls descended on her. She read each note then and there. She said they were from old schoolmates." Poppy took a sip of her pumpkin juice. She leaned into Albus and lowered her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "She did not say outright but I could tell they were notes of the amorous sort. I could feel the heat of her blush from a meter away."
Why am I the last person to know these things? Albus took a sip of pumpkin juice. Over the rim of his goblet, his eyes were drawn to Minerva. "She is a pleasing woman in most respects with many acquaintances. Her social calendar must have a few entries in it."
Poppy snorted softly. "Oh, she has quite the active social life, make no mistake of that, Albus. Charles and I were at the Three Broomsticks on Saturday. And do you know what we witnessed? Minerva was virtually surrounded by men, at least four, all vying for her attentions. She said that they were her fellow Aurors and they were simply reminiscing. But the way they were looking at her, well, I know what their intentions were even if Minerva did not."
"Did she return their interest, do you think?"
"It's hard to tell with her but the attention must be rather flattering. I know that it would turn my head if I did not already have Charles beside me."
"Truly I had no notion that Minerva was so popular."
"I for one am glad that Minerva is paying attention to THAT aspect of her life. She's lived her life for others for so long. She's earned the right to be selfish and carefree. You watch, one of these days, Albus, we will be dancing in her wedding party."
Out of the corner of his eye he saw Minerva turn and glance in his direction. Their gazes held for a time. It wasn't long but enough for her to send him a small smile and for him to smile back.
"Poppy, will you grant me a favour?"
"I am having a meeting with Minerva after dinner. In a half hour come to my office on some premise. It matters not what reason. I fear Minerva may have cause to lose her temper."
"And you want me to distract her?"
"After all these years I have found distraction to be the ideal method to soothe her temper when roused." Albus' gaze rested once more on his deputy.
"I might have a thing or two to discuss about her concerning that first year Arthur Weasley."
"Thank you, Poppy."
"Would this have anything to do with Mr. Marchbanks?"
"Perhap, perhaps not." Albus mentally added. I sincerely hope not. She deserves better than such a charmer.
Minerva had not said a word after Cecil's earnest, if longwinded, explanation of the governors' plan. Not a single utterance. She sat in her usual chair opposite his desk with her hands folded calmly on her lap. Her face was unreadable. Albus looked at her carefully. He could see her chest moving up and down. Well, she IS breathing.
"Minerva, ah, what do you think?" Cecil ventured. "We only want the best for ... for you and your reputation. The school would improve so with you as Albus' deputy."
Albus called forth his most reassuring smile. "Minerva, please remember that this is only a suggestion. You are under no obligation whatsoever."
Still she said nothing. Her eyes had a faraway look as if she was elsewhere entirely. Cecil and Albus looked at each other then back again at Minerva.
Albus stood up and began to speak as he slowly made his way towards her. "If you don't want this, please tell me and it will be forgotten."
"But, Albus, we strongly feel -" Cecil began. He was cut off by Albus' cutting glance.
"No." Minerva finally said. At hearing her refusal, Albus breathed his first deep, satisfying breath since their talk had begun.
"All right then." He clapped his hands together and turned to Cecil. "Cecil, please extend my regards to the governors. Be sure to make the announcement of Minerva's promotion some time next week."
Minerva stood up and picked up the list lying on Albus' desk. "It's a fine idea, Cecil."
Albus whirled. "Minerva!?"
She looked through the list quickly. "If I don't get married now, when will I?"
In a weak voice, Albus asked. "You find the idea agreeable?"
"I think it's rather thoughtful of them." Minerva rolled up the list and put it inside her pocket.
"But you should not have to be forced into this."
"I don't feel forced, Albus. Don't you see? If I'm to succeed you, now is the time for me to marry and have a family."
"No time like the present." added Cecil.
"What do you know of these men? The whole idea is ... is ..." For once Albus Dumbledore could not find the right words to express himself clearly.
"I have some acquaintance with a few of these gentlemen. Those of whom I know nothing of, well, I do have a month. That time should be more than satisfactory to become better acquainted with their natures and dispositions."
Cecil smiled at Minerva. His expression put one to mind of an eager puppy. "So, you'll be meeting with them ... us ... me?"
"Yes, Cecil, I will be."
There was a quick rap on the office door. Poppy strode in looking quite worried. She looked at Minerva and then at Albus. Albus shrugged his shoulders. "Minerva, may I have word? It's about Mr. Weasley."
"Ah, duty calls. I'll be on my way then. Albus. Minerva. Madam Pomfrey." Cecil threw some floo powder into the fireplace and disappeared.
"Has he gotten into another fight, Poppy?" Minerva said as the two women strode out of the office. "I'll see you in the morning, Albus."
Albus collapsed into his chair feeling defeat settle on his spirit. She is not in her right mind. What is she thinking?