Saturday breakfast in the Great Hall was normally a relatively quiet affair, inasmuch as any gathering of students outside the classroom could be termed "quiet". On this particular morning, though, there seemed to be a bit more to-ing and fro-ing between House tables than usual. Headmaster Dumbledore noticed this and commented upon it to his uncharacteristically flushed Deputy, who offered the opinion that it most likely had something to do with an upcoming Weird Sisters concert or some such nonsense.
Professor Flitwick disagreed. "As I went by the Ravenclaw table, I saw some of the older boys passing around a rather tastefully enticing photograph."
"Really?" Professor Dumbledore was curious. "Anyone we know?"
Minerva held her breath.
"All I could see, before it changed hands, was that she had long dark hair, she was brushing it you see, and quite lovely…er, attributes." He blushed at this point, no doubt remembering that there were ladies present.
Minerva let out her breath slowly, though she did smile to herself at the Charms professor's assessment.
"Well, whoever the lady is, her photo is proving to be quite sought after," the Headmaster observed. "Perhaps it's that new singer I've heard about."
"Lucinda Larkwing?" Madame Hooch asked, with a sidelong glance at Minerva.
Professor Dumbledore nodded. "That's the one."
"I wasn't aware that she actually brushed her hair," Professor Snape interjected.
"Oh, that wild look is carefully cultivated, I can assure you," Pomona Sprout chimed in. "I imagine she spends hours at the dressing table."
Professor Snape snorted inelegantly and resumed his breakfast, all the while keeping a close watch on the proceedings at the student tables.
Minerva pointedly ignored Pomona's and Rolanda's knowing grins, and turned her attention instead to the Gryffindor table, where a knot of very intent students had formed at the opposite end.
Dean Thomas had been rather preoccupied at the breakfast table this morning. Earlier in the term, at Professor McGonagall's suggestion, he had signed up for art lessons, which were given once a week by a witch who came up from Hogsmeade. During the course of these lessons it was discovered that he had a real knack for portraiture, and one of his favorite things to do was sketch people while they were doing something else, unaware that they were being sketched at all. This, he felt, gave his drawings more vitality and, if he really got it right, captured a small facet of the subject's personality. Today he was attempting to sketch Susan Bones over at the Hufflepuff table, but was having a rough time of it because she kept half getting up and craning her neck towards the Ravenclaw table, as though she were looking for something or someone, then sitting down to take a bite or two, only to jump up again. He was just about to give it up as a bad job when she rose and came towards him, hot on the heels of Michael Corner, who was striding purposefully towards Dean's end of the Gryffindor table.
"You can draw this can't you, mate?" Michael handed Dean a photograph before plunking himself down next to him. "There's some sort of anti-copying charm on it that none of us can break, but I thought maybe a drawing would get around that."
The photo was of a woman sitting at a small table, wearing a dressing gown, and brushing her long black hair. When she raised her arms slightly, it became quite apparent that the dressing gown was the only thing she was wearing. Dean grinned. "Nice rack," he commented. "Her legs aren't bad either."
Michael laughed. "Yeah, who knew McGonagall was hot?"
"What?" Dean looked reflexively at the Head Table.
Michael laughed even harder. "Look at the face in the photo, mate!"
Dean stared hard at the woman in the photograph. Without her square spectacles, her trademark bun, and her customary stern expression - not to mention her usual attire - Professor McGonagall looked…well, different - obviously so different that he hadn't recognized her at first glance. Now that he did, though, embarrassment and curiosity fought for the upper hand in his mind. Curiosity won. "Where did you get this?"
"I found it in the Hufflepuff common room." Susan Bones joined the conversation. "It was on a table next to the fireplace."
"Well whose is it?" Dean wanted to know.
"How should I know?" Susan replied reasonably. "No one jumped up and down saying 'It's mine' or anything. They mostly just grabbed at it, or had fits."
"Fits?" Michael looked skeptical.
"Yeah," Susan confirmed. "Justin kept clutching at his eyes and going on about his Transfiguration essay; Ernie kept trying to copy the thing for his uncle, and a bunch of the seventh years started arguing about whether it was a "pre-shag or post-shag" photo." She rolled her eyes.
"The Ravenclaws think it's a Witch Monthly original," Michael revealed.
"What's Witch Monthly?" Dean asked.
"It's a magazine that has really high quality nude photos of witches and articles about sex and relationships," Susan answered matter-of-factly. "There's a Wizard Monthly too."
"But isn't McGonagall too old for something like that?" Dean was confused.
"What do you mean 'too old'?" Susan gave him an odd look.
"Terry's great-grandmother was in it a couple of months ago," Michael informed him, "and she's over one hundred."
"Don't Muggles have magazines like that?" Susan was curious now.
"Well, yeah," Dean squirmed uncomfortably in his seat, "but all the women in them are young."
"Then what do all the old folks look at?" Michael was puzzled.
Dean was at a loss. "I don't know," he admitted, "the young ones, I guess."
"That's sick," Susan declared.
"Yeah," Michael agreed. "My great-great-grandfather always says 'Find me one who looks like she might know what she's about behind the bed curtains!'"
Dean looked down at the photo again. Would McGonagall know what…? He blushed at his train of thought, grateful for its interruption in the form of Neville Longbottom, who had been silent until now.
"I read somewhere that Muggle men are required by law to get divorced when their wives turn forty-five," Neville began. "Maybe that's why only young women's photos are allowed."
"That law is only for celebrities and really rich men," Susan corrected him authoritatively. "And the wives can get around it if they agree to stretch their faces and inject themselves with food poisoning serum."
"Now that really is sick." Michael looked at her disbelievingly. "That can't possibly be true."
"It isn't," Dean cut in before Susan could retort. "There's no such law, though an awful lot of famous Muggle men do ditch their wives for younger models, and it does seem like a lot of Muggle women do strange things to look young."
"Weird," Michael observed.
"Well anyway," Colin Creevey, who had been sitting next to Dean all this time, suddenly spoke, "that can't be a Witch Monthly original."
"Why not?" Michael wanted to know.
"Every Witch Monthly photograph has the Witch Monthly slogan somewhere in the shot," Colin explained. "It's either on a book, or a piece of paper, or a ribbon or something like that, but it's always there. I've looked all over this photo and there's no slogan."
"Well then who took it and what was it doing in our common room?" Susan voiced the question that was in all of their minds.
"Maybe her husband took it," Michael reasoned.
"She's not married." Susan shook her head. "My auntie told me."
"Boyfriend?" offered Neville uncertainly. "Girlfriend?"
"That still wouldn't explain how it ended up in the Hufflepuff common room," Michael mused, "unless she and Sprout…"
Susan shook her head again. "Sprout is very happily married."
"Your auntie tell you that too?" Michael was growing slightly impatient.
"Yes, as a matter of fact," Susan retorted.
"Lay off, Michael," Neville interjected. "I met Professor Sprout's husband last week, and well…they still hold hands." He reached over and took a large handful of bacon in an attempt to hide the slight blush that had begun to form on his cheeks.
"Maybe Hufflepuff House has a Peeping Tom," Colin speculated.
"What are you talking about?" demanded an outraged Susan Bones.
"There's a very large tree right outside McGonagall's window," Colin told her. "Anyone with the right lense could have taken that photo."
"How do you know that?" Neville stared at Colin.
"I happen to know a great deal about photography," sniffed Colin indignantly.
"I meant the tree," Neville shot back.
"Oh, that." Colin looked a bit sheepish. "I was circling Gryffindor Tower during a flying lesson when I passed a window and saw McGonagall taking a bunch of tartan things off the bed and putting them into the wardrobe. Then I hit the tree."
"You've just proven that the Peeping Tom doesn't have to be a Hufflepuff," Susan pointed out after the snickers had subsided. "It could just as easily be a camera-crazy Gryffindor who shares with his mates!"
"I would never do that to my Head of House," asserted an aggrieved Colin. "Besides, whoever took that photo has a far better camera. That's professional quality, that is."
"She's right about the sharing part though," Neville pointed out. "Everyone has friends in other Houses, even Slytherins."
"I don't know anyone who has a professional quality camera," Susan stated.
"Neither do I," Michael admitted.
"I think we'd know if someone had something like that in Gryffindor, don't you think?" Dean asked Colin, who nodded thoughtfully.
"Not even the most advanced seventh years could break whatever anti-copying charm is on this thing," Michael added, "so I think we're looking at an experienced witch or wizard here."
Neville was beginning to look rather worried. "What if it's someone who wants to hurt her in some way?" he thought out loud.
"What do you mean?" Susan turned to look at him fully.
"Do you remember that bloke in the Daily Prophet who took pictures of a lady across an alley, then showed them to her husband?" When the others nodded, he went on, "Well, what if someone's taking pictures of Professor McGonagall and putting them in our common rooms, with the idea that someone will go to the school Governors about it?"
The other boys at the table looked blank, but Susan's eyes grew very wide. "They might accuse her of having an affair with a student!"
Dean was skeptical. "No one would believe that, not even for a moment," he scoffed.
"People have been believing a lot of wrong things lately," Neville reminded them.
They were all silent for a moment, pondering this, when Dean ventured, "If someone is doing that, they're going to need lots of different photos, not just one."
"So?" Colin wasn't following.
"So," Dean continued, "maybe we should be keeping an eye on that tree."
Just as Professor Sprout had promised, the photo disintegrated into a fine powder at three o'clock that afternoon. Unfortunately for those who witnessed it, the powder in question all too closely resembled that contained in Fizzing Whizbees. This sorely provoked Madam Pince, who made quick work of waving away the mess with one hand and shooing the hapless students out of the library with the other. There was one other witness, hovering on the edge of the scene, who remained in the stacks after the others had gone, pondering what he had seen before sweeping out on an errand of his own, black robes billowing behind him.
Minerva, after having spent most of the day in her office grading fifth year essays (hiding, Madam Hooch called it), was quite relieved to hear from Professor Sprout that the photo was no longer in circulation. She was not pleased, however, to learn of a small hitch in the plan. "What sort of miscalculation are you talking about, Pomona?" she queried the Herbology professor sharply.
"While I charmed the photo against duplication by magical means, I did not take into account your young Mr. Thomas' penchant for portraiture," Pomona was obviously vexed with herself.
"Good heavens!" Minerva was aghast. "When I saw him sketching at breakfast, I had no idea…" she trailed off, mortified.
"It's really a lovely likeness," Pomona confided hesitantly. "That young man is quite talented."
"How many of them have you seen?" Minerva was wide-eyed.
"Only one," Pomona assured her. "Ernest MacMillan was down to see me earlier this afternoon and I saw it when he opened his folder."
Minerva shook her head. "Where there's one, there will be many," she sighed, defeated. "It's only a matter of time before one of the staff happens upon it."
"In which case, we'll simply chalk it up to a student crush indulging in artistic license," Pomona declared with a twinkle in her eye.
Minerva chuckled. "And remind them that it has to be better than bad erotic poetry adorning the hallways."
Dinner passed without incident, and it was a very tired Minerva McGonagall who prepared herself for bed that evening. Deciding that she would treat herself to a bit of a lie-in the following morning, she approached her bedroom window, undoing the ties that held the curtains in place. Then she saw it – a flicker of movement, level with her window, where the branches of the tree outside almost touched the tower. She waited, pretending to adjust the plants on the sill, and it appeared again.
This time, she couldn't blame it on the scotch. Nor did she have her two closest friends egging her on. A long-dormant part of Professor McGonagall was beginning to awaken, and with a mischievous smile she looked straight out into the night. Well, well, well, she thought to herself, I certainly hope that what you're about to see is worth the detention. And with that, she dropped her dressing gown to the floor, slowly reaching out to close the curtains. She was not surprised to hear the characteristic rustle of leaves and knocking of wood upon wood that invariably accompanied a collision of broomstick with branch. What she did not expect, however, was the timbre of the voice that uttered the muffled curse that usually goes along with such incidents. She smiled again. I wonder if Severus will have a limp in the morning?