Written for Challenge # 97 on the ADMM boards: "Write a little fic where Minerva has a set of bagpipes! She can be given them/own them/play them/hate them... whatever you fancy!" Thank you to CrankyCauldron for the Challenge.
And thanks to JKR for letting us use the characters. All, except Iain, are hers, nothing is mine.
This is a medley of three pipe melodies, as it were.
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Deputy Headmaster Dumbledore's attention was distracted from the fried tomatoes, beans, sausage, toast and oatmeal which had just popped onto his plate by the sight of two sturdy eagle owls with black bands on their legs which were swooping towards the Gryffindor table with a large dust-stained package bearing Muggle postage. They deposited the parcel into the arms of a clearly startled Head Girl Minerva McGonagall. She took a roll of black-rimmed parchment from the leg of one owl, read it, and then buried her face against the unopened package cradled in her arms as the owls flew away. When a concerned housemate put her arm on Minerva's shoulder she shook it off, stood up and walked hurriedly out of the Great Hall with the package still cradled against her chest.
After finishing his breakfast rather more quickly than usual, Albus forewent his normal end-of-meal conversation with colleagues and left the Great Hall. Instead of heading to his office and classroom, he turned towards Gryffindor Tower and the Head Girl's room. He sensed a strong silencing charm on the door as he raised his hand to knock. At first there was no answer to his firm rapping. "Miss McGonagall? Miss McGonagall?" He felt the charm being removed.
"Professor Dumbledore? Just a moment, please." After the better part of a minute the door opened.
"Is something wrong, Professor? Some sort of emergency?" Minerva's voice was steady, but the Glamour she had cast had obviously been done quickly and without full concentration, and he could see the red eyes and tear-stained cheeks beneath it.
"No, there is no emergency. I came to speak with you. May I come in?"
"Of course." Minerva looked around her small room self-consciously as she stepped aside. He carefully avoided giving in to his curiosity as to its furnishings and kept his eyes focused on his Head Girl and favourite student.
"I saw the owls deliver that package to you at breakfast, and noticed their bands. I came to inquire if you were alright. I had not known you had anyone in the service, Minerva." At her puzzled expression, he continued, "I recognized the style of packaging. If I am not mistaken that package was from the muggle Army. I am very sorry."
Minerva struggled to hold back tears. "My cousin Iain. In North Africa. El Alamein. He's left me some of…most of... his things." The last words were choked out.
Albus reached out his arms and pulled her towards him, and she crumpled into his chest, the sobs now unrestrained. Once she had quieted somewhat, he led her across the room and helped her sit down on the edge of her bed, while he summoned her desk chair across the room for himself. Most of the bed was taken up by the opened package and its contents--a box of artists' pencils, a sketchbook, and a set of Highland bagpipes. Bits of sand still clung to everything. Albus handed Minerva a handkerchief.
"You must have been very close. Would you like to tell me about him?"
"Iain was more like the older brother I never had. He was just 20. He was a piper with one of the Cameron regiments. He didn't want to fight and kill, you see, but he wanted to do his part."
"Too few wizards have understood the need for us to concern ourselves with the Muggle war, Minerva. He was…"
"No, Professor, it was because he was raised as a muggle. His mum is a muggle, his father, my mum's brother, was a wizard. He was killed in a wizarding duel when Iain was just seven. His mother blamed his death on the magical world, and insisted on Iain being raised totally muggle. She had as little to do with wizards as she could. She had grudgingly asked my parents to help tutor him in magic—but not to help him develop his, but to teach him how to control it, subdue so he could live as a muggle without any magical accidents or problems. They did it, but against their better judgment, and only because my uncle had been insistent in his will that the boy's mother was to have sole say in raising him if anything happened.
"But she couldn't make do totally on her own, especially not after the Crash, when no one could find work, so she had to rely on my parents for a bit of help. They lived in the muggle village near us, but Iain spent a lot of time at our house. Earned quite a bit of money for his mother doing chores, tutoring me in muggle subjects before I came to Hogwarts, and so on. He usually took supper with us, which also saved his mum a bit of food and bother. That's how we got to be so close."
"So he never used his magic at all?"
"Barely. As he got older, he asked me to teach him a few basic things--lumos, accio--and I think he would have been a powerful wizard if he'd been trained and encouraged. But he never used it at home or in public. He loved his mum, and he didn't want to go against her wishes.
"He tried to think of himself as a muggle, though he never fit in well with the other kids in the muggle school. He wasn't interested in football, or rugby. He started bartering with some people in the village to teach him things…there was an old man who was a painter, and Iain chopped firewood for him in return for art lessons. That's how he learned the bagpipes, too—did chores for lessons, and his teacher was so impressed he gave him an old set of pipes. He'd stay up late at night practicing his art or his music, after a full day of school and doing chores for three or more families. He did ask me to teach him a silencing charm so he could practise the pipes without waking anyone up.
"When he learned that the local regiment was recruiting for pipers, he signed on. He wanted to get out of that village, and he did believe in doing his bit. And he could send his pay packet home. More than he made in chores. Lots of the muggle boys in the village were signing up too.
"His mother raised him as a muggle because she blamed the wizarding world for his father's death, and he goes and dies in the Muggle army! If he'd been a wizard, he'd still be alive!" Tears once again overflowed down Minerva's face.
"Perhaps, though you know we can't be sure of that." Albus gently wiped the tears from one of her cheeks with a thumb. "But he died a brave and honourable death, helping an important cause, and helping his comrades. You know that the regimental pipers, when they aren't piping, work as litter bearers and medics?"
"Yes, he wrote me about that, a bit. He couldn't bring himself to describe the details, but sometimes he'd send me sketches of the battlefield." Minerva shivered. "He made me promise to never show them to his mother, so she wouldn't worry."
"He's left you his sketchbook? And his pipes?"
"Yes. I think he knew I'd appreciate them more than his mother would. She always thought his art and music were distractions from earning his way in the world. They may not have been magic, but they weren't practical, either.
"After I'd started at Hogwarts, when I was home on breaks, he'd always listen to my stories from school, but I knew it was hard for him, hearing about all the magic I was learning. So I tried not to talk about that too much. Instead I asked him to teach me how to draw, and to show me the places I saw in his sketches, and tell me about the people whose faces he drew. And he'd play his pipes for me, and he agreed to give me some lessons, though neither of us had any idea what use a witch would have for playing the pipes. And I only know a few very basic tunes."
"You will be needing some time off from your classes to attend the funeral. When will you be leaving?"
"The letter, which was from my parents, didn't give a day or time. They just said it would be a small muggle service. I don't think they plan to attend, and didn't think I would want to. They always felt uneasy about Iain's being a muggle, you see."
Albus wandlessly summoned a blank piece of parchment and two quills from Minerva's desk. He quickly wrote a note on the parchment, then charmed that quill to have a black edge and the other one to a Gryffindor scarlet and gold. He pointed his wand first at one quill, and then at the other, muttering "Portus" each time.
"This note explains to your parents and anyone else who may ask that you are excused from Hogwarts to attend your cousin's funeral and to assist your family in any way necessary, that I trust your judgment as how long you need to remain at home, and that you are authorized to use these portkeys. The black-edged one will take you to the front steps of your parents' home. The trigger word is 'familias.' The scarlet one will bring you back to Hogwarts, to this room. Trigger word 'Godric.'
"Please take as long as you need, Minerva. You are so far ahead in all your classes you do not need to worry about them. And I will ensure your Head Girl duties are covered. I would ask only that you send me word just as you leave the grounds, and when you return, so that I know you are back safely. If there is anything else I can do, Minerva, now or after your return, please tell me."
"Thank you very much, Professor. You have been most kind. For noticing and asking, and then listening, as well as for the portkeys and passes."
"It is the least I can do for you, Minerva. And if you would like to tell me more about Iain sometime, I would gladly listen. It can help, I've found."
Albus took one of her hands in his and gave it an encouraging squeeze, and then rose and stepped towards the door. "You will need time to pack and such. I will not expect to see you in class next period."
"Thank you, Professor."
"Godspeed, Miss McGonagall."