I was having an extremely pleasant dream about myself and Amelia walking on a meadow hand in hand, when suddenly something fell on me with a tremendous impact.
"Wha…?" I yelled and saw a bleary-eyed, yawning Amelia lying on top of me, blinking in a surprised way. "Of course… the bed," I muttered. The 'wake-me-up-at-six-o'clock-charm' hadn't been removed from my four-poster, so the bed had kicked the poor girl out, right onto me (I had designed the bed's waking-charm in a way that it'd always dump me onto the sofa opposite the bed, so that I wouldn't hit myself too much.) I think I must have been way too tired the previous evening to remember to take the waking charm off the four-poster. However, at this moment I felt downright thankful to the bed for dumping Amelia, for she was lying on me, her arms propped over my shoulders and my arms had instinctively encircled her tiny waist. I just loved this particular position… No, Albus, you aren't supposed to like it! - the voice of my conscience screamed inside my head.
"Er… sorry. My stupidity," I said and gently pushed the young woman back into a sitting position, while I was hoping against hope that she hadn't noticed what kind of effect her closeness had on my body this early in the morning…
After breakfast (she ate salad with mustard sauce, but at least was using her fork), I had a class to teach. My heart ached at the thought of leaving my lady alone, especially when I knew that she'd be bored to death with having only books around that she couldn't read.
Something should be done about this! - I told myself while I headed downstairs for the class. I was so immersed in my thoughts that I didn't notice Headmaster Snape rounding the corner and ran headlong into him.
"Oh, sorry, Sylvester!" I apologised.
"Next time look where you're going," he replied, giving me a scowl. Well, Severus had undoubtedly inherited this particular scowl…
"Er… yes, of course," I nodded, feeling totally embarrassed. I still hadn't forgotten how afraid I had been of this man when I had been a student here at Hogwarts. I was no longer afraid of him, but… a Snape remains a Snape and he still managed to make the staff-members cringe whenever he scowled at them like that.
"Are you all right, Albus?" he asked, raising an eyebrow in a menacing way.
"Of course I am, Sylvester," I replied, trying to look totally innocent (I had learnt this 'look of innocence' from that good-for-nothing brother of mine).
"Strange…" Snape said. "I wonder why I have the impression that you are… up to something."
"Up to something?" I blinked in a politely bewildered way. "I have no idea what you're talking about… if you'll excuse me now, I've got a class to teach."
So, where was I before this idiot interrupted? - I thought. Oh yeah, I have to do something about Amelia's boredom! And also about that bed… I just passed by a classroom whose door was half-ajar and the words of Professor Binns (at that time still alive) came through: "… and Uldric the Ugly, accompanied by his loyal phoenix Hildegard defeated…"
I slapped my forehead. A phoenix! Of course! I had read in a book that phoenixes were loyal pets (Amelia would find its company highly entertaining), they could carry huge weights, their tears had healing powers, and… they could be used as cuckoo clocks! A phoenix would be both perfect against Miss Who's boredom, and it would make my bed-charm unnecessary if the phoenix woke me up at six o'clock!
Two hours later I came out of Hogsmeade's pet shop, holding a cage with a wondrous crimson-coloured bird that had golden tail-feathers. His name was Fawkes.
* * * * *
"I've brought you something, Miss Who," I said upon returning to my quarters. "He will be your pet from now on and he'll entertain you. He's called Fawkes."
With that I pulled the cage out from behind my back. When Amelia spotted the phoenix, her face lit up like the sun on the zenith. She clasped her hands in delight and practically yanked the bird out of its cage. Fawkes let out a plaintive squeal as Amelia hugged him (correction: as Amelia almost stifled him).
"Now, now, Miss Who, don't kill that poor bird…" I gently tried to peel her arms off Fawkes, however, she didn't really want to let him go. What could I do if I didn't want the poor thing die the first day I bought him? I had to resort to drastic measures, so I jerked the bird out of Amelia's loving arms.
Fawkes squeaked again, and gave the girl a contemptuous look when spotting his two tail-feathers that had remained in Amelia's hands. Then he turned to me and gave me a grateful glance. I was touched by the realisation that mere birds could give you almost human looks, their eyes mirroring their true feelings… I knew at once that Fawkes would be my friend as long as I lived, and he'd always be loyal to me in order to thank me for saving him from Amelia.
After I explained to my lady that hugging animals this ferociously wouldn't do them any good, I turned my attention to those two golden tail-feathers she had torn out. What to do with them? Use them as a quill? Hm… I think even Gilderoy Lockhart would have turned green with envy, had he seen me using a golden phoenix-tail-feather quill while he only used peacock quills… but I just wasn't the type to write with such flashy things. So I decided to send them to Ollivander, perhaps he'd want to use them as a core for two wands…
* * * * *
Two weeks after Amelia's arrival I got an invitation to a wedding party held at the back garden of the Three Broomsticks. On my invitation card stood:
Do not forget to bring your partner.
Normally I would have gone with my fiancée, but she was in Paris, so who could I go with? Who? Well, Miss Who, of course.
Before the party I had lots of things to teach Amelia so that she wouldn't embarrass me in front of others. I also had to make up a likely tale for questions like 'where does she live? I haven't seen her around yet…'
Amelia already knew how to use the crockery and eat salad in the most elegant way. She had also got used to seeing mirrors and didn't start pointing at them all the time. However, she couldn't get along with Fawkes, and for the sake of the phoenix's health I had to put him into a cage and cast a charm on its locker so that Amelia wouldn't be able to open it and 'fondle' the bird to death.
* * * * *
Besides teaching Miss Who how to behave like a real lady, I was also teaching myself from The Invisible Book of Invisibility how to become invisible. The trick of the book was to remember where I had put it, so the next time I wanted to read it, I'd just have to grope around on the table where I couldn't see anything, and I'd surely find it - as soon as I found it and opened it, it became visible. And when I finished reading it, I just shut it and it became invisible again…
Learning to become invisible and also vanish others wasn't an easy business, but I had to learn it as soon as possible if I wanted to take Amelia on walks around the corridors or even outside the castle without Headmaster Snape seeing us or Peeves spotting us and running to Snape to tell on us.
By the middle of April I had mastered this kind of magic: I could turn invisible without using a cloak or a wand, but in order to turn others invisible I had to use my wand.
On a wonderfully sunny Sunday afternoon, I decided to surprise my lady with taking her out to the meadows around Hogsmeade - the poor girl must have developed a nasty claustrophobia after being closed in my quarters for two weeks…
I successfully turned us invisible, took her by the hand so I wouldn't lose her when I couldn't see her and led her through the corridors, towards the Entrance Hall. On our way we 'met' Headmaster Snape and I stuck my tongue out at him - well, he couldn't see it, could he? (Note for the future: never mention this to Severus!)
On the meadow I took the vanishing charms off us and saw the enraptured expression on Amelia's face: I don't think I had ever seen her this happy… as though the meadow had somehow been her element, her home… suddenly we got surrounded by a flock of goats that had been grazing on the meadow before.
"Cute little animals, huh?" I smiled at Amelia, who was stroking the goats as though she knew them… I liked animals a lot, but after half an hour of patting the goats' heads, I got bored of them and wanted to remain alone with my lady.
"Okay now, go off to graze, chop-chop!" I told the goats, but they didn't seem to want to leave us. I shrugged and took Amelia by the hand, leading her towards the crest of a small hill. For some seconds I felt happy and contented to be able to walk with this wonderful woman at my side, no one to bother us anymore… then I heard bleating.
I turned around and gasped. These little monsters were following us! As though we were some kind of a goat-magnet! Certainly I did have some animal magnetism, but to such an extent?! I had never thought…
It didn't even occur to me that these animals might have been following Amelia…
Anyway, our afternoon was ruined. The goats followed us around the whole meadow, getting on my nerves. I had to cast a temporary Petrificus Totalus on them in order to keep them from following us to Hogwarts (though it would have been nice to see Headmaster Snape's expression when a flock of goats flooded the castle…)
* * * * *
On Friday - the day before the party - I had a rather unpleasant task (or was it unpleasant at all?): I had to mention to Miss Who (as politely as possible) that she ought to take a bath. (She hadn't taken one ever since she arrived at Hogwarts.)
She gave me an expression of bewilderment.
"A bath, you know… in the tub," I said, pointing at the door of the adjacent bathroom. I thought she had never ever opened that door before, so I took her by the hand and led her up to it. "See… that's a tub. It'll be filled with nice, warm water soon and you'll be able to wash yourself."
She pursed her lips and scowled at me. In the past few days whenever I taught her something new I had to make a 'presentation' of how it was done. But now… she couldn't have been expecting me to jump into the tub and show her how I washed myself?
"Listen, Miss Who," I said, "I'll fill it with water. Then you'll sit in it and let yourself soak a bit."
I turned on the taps and waited until the fragrant pinkish foam filled the tub. "Here, try it," I smiled at her and turned around to leave. Before I could even reach the door, I heard a splash and had to double back.
Amelia was sitting in the tub, fully clothed (as much as I could see from all those bubbles).
"Er… you should have… damn," I sighed. I had told her 'you'll sit into it and let yourself soak', but hadn't told her to take off her clothes as well. Shouldn't that have been obvious? Her behaviour was getting more and more peculiar as time went on and I was seriously considering writing to the IMF (International Magical Federation) and request a more thorough education of the Liechtensteinian wizarding population.
Seeing the horror on my face, Amelia's pretty eyes filled with tears. She knew she had done something wrong again and had disappointed me… the poor thing, her stare was heart wrenching… in the next instant I was already kneeling next to her, holding her in a half-embrace, as much as the rim of the tub between us let me hug her, and I was rocking her gently. "You know what?" I grinned and drew back a bit, "you're right. One can bathe just as well this way," I said and jumped into the tub, still wearing my navy blue robes sprinkled with little stars. I think if someone had seen me in that second, I'd have had to spend the rest of my life in a strait-jacket in St. Mungo's Lunatic Ward… but no one saw me except my lady, and her eyes radiated eternal joy and love… yes, LOVE.
Before I knew what I was doing, I had pulled her closer again and plastered my lips to hers. After I drew back, I saw an appalled expression on her face. Her eyes had widened, her mouth was hanging open and she stared at me, unblinking.
"Sorry… shouldn't have done that… I don't know what got into me…" I apologised and grabbed the rim of the tub to climb out of it, but before I could do so, I felt two arms sneak around my neck and pull me down… if Fawkes hadn't let out five squeaks, indicating that I was late for the monthly staff conference, I don't know what I would have done with her… er… perhaps I know, but at that time I felt way too embarrassed to even think about it.
Not to mention that Headmaster Snape gave me quite a funny look when I entered the staff room smelling of lilies and elderflower…
* * * * *
The wedding of the McGonagalls was very nice, held in the open air. The charming bride was a Muggle history-teacher whose favourite historic era was that of the Roman Empire. So no wonder that her daughter (born ten years later) got named Minerva…
I had a great time with Amelia at the party. Sometimes people would greet us: "Hullo, Albus, who's this charming young lady with you?" and I would answer: "Headmaster Snape's distant relation… she's staying at the castle for a while, you know…" I had to make them believe that Amelia had a permission to stay at Hogwarts, since it was clear to everybody that she wasn't staying at Aberforth's house or anywhere else in Hogsmeade. Of course I knew Sylvester Snape enough to be sure that he wouldn't mingle with the crowd, so no one would have a chance to ask him about Amelia and my little fib would never catch his ear. Ever since his little 'adventure' with the Transylvanian vampire witch, he had barely left the castle and talked to anyone besides the staff-members (he even gave his son - Severus' father - away to a nice wizarding couple in London to raise). He was definitely a terrible father… come to think of it, his son turned out to be a terrible father too… I wonder what kind of a father our Severus would turn into… well, time will tell. But I digress.
So, Amelia and I were having the time of our lives at the wedding. She ate four slices of the wedding cake (with using a fork!) and drank three glasses of champagne. I suppose it might have been the champagne that made her so merry, and as soon as a wizarding band started to play some Johann Strauss waltzes, she practically yanked me off my seat and pulled me towards the dance floor (a less grass-covered part of the garden). I loved waltzing a lot, ten years earlier I had even won a dance contest (no kidding), but poor Amelia wasn't a talent in this area. She kept stepping on my toes while she swirled and laughed (bleated) uncontrollably. Some people around us even remarked that they had never thought that the morose Sylvester Snape could have such a cheerful and nice relative. I hid a smile at this comment and caught Amelia as she stumbled over a rock. We both fell behind a rose bush, she held onto me, giggling and suddenly sneaked her arms around my neck and kissed me.
For some seconds I just relished the feeling of her lips on mine, then suddenly realised that we were in public and I was very much engaged.
I squinted around and heaved a sigh of relief: that rose bush hid us nicely, so no one could have seen us kissing… could they?
As it later turned out, they did.
The rose bush we were lying/half sitting behind was at the very end of the garden and the Hogsmeade meadow started mere feet away. The garden had no fences, just a couple of brambles around its edge to separate it from the meadow, though the brambles didn't stand close enough to each other to form a proper hedge. I stood up and offered Amelia a hand to hoist her to her feet when a particular sound caught my ear.
I looked down at my lady and had to realise that it wasn't her. Then…?
I swallowed the lump in my throat and slowly, very slowly turned around to see that a flock of goats that had been peacefully grazing on the hillside had spotted us.
"Uh-oh… there'll be trouble," I breathed and yanked Amelia off the ground. "Run!"
It seemed that she didn't understand why I was pulling her across the crowd of guests so hurriedly, and the guests didn't understand why we were running, too… then they understood.
After the long table set up for the party had been overturned, the huge four-tiered wedding cake with pink icing had landed in Doris Crockford's lap and the bride had screamed because a goat had trampled on her veil and yanked it off her head, the guests finally understood the reason for our flight.
Amelia and I were running for what seemed to be hours (though it must have been only a minute) when I heard some Stupefy's and Petrificus Totalus's and the bleating ceased. We had already reached Zonko's when I dared look back. Panting, I wiped my forehead and thought that I hated goats. All of them. Even Djali, Esmeralda's stupid goat! Down with goats! Why on Earth did they want to follow me around?
For a second I cursed my own stupidity for not reacting quicker and throwing the petrifying charm on the goats myself… or I could as well have become invisible and escaped from the goats? But… perhaps they could smell you and follow you even if you were invisible? I had no idea.
The wedding of the McGonagalls went down in history as the 'wedding with goats'. I'm not sure whether Minerva's parents had ever told her that goats had been 'guests' at their wedding… Even if they had told her, Minerva never mentioned it later. Perhaps she just didn't have enough sense of humour to find the story amusing.
* * * * *
However, as it turned out, I shouldn't have found the story amusing either, given its consequences that came up right next morning. The next day was Sunday, so I could afford to lie-in a bit, and I was awoken by someone hammering on the door.
"Albus, it's me, Sylvester, let me in!" the headmaster's voice sounded rather miffed.
Amelia had also been awoken by Snape and was yawning and stretching on my four-poster (I was still sleeping on the sofa). She was taken by surprise as I suddenly swished my wand at her, vanishing her.
I smoothed my nightshirt and opened the door for the headmaster.
"So." He gave me a menacing look.
"So… what?" I blinked, trying to look innocent.
"Explain this!" Snape pushed The Hogsmeade Times into my face. On the front page I saw a wizard photo of myself and Amelia, fleeing hand in hand from a flock of goats that flooded the back garden of the Three Broomsticks.
"Er…" I gaped at the picture. "Nice photo. The photographer must be talented if he managed to catch just the right moment…"
"Albus," Sylvester cut in, "I'm not interested in the photographer's talents, I want to know what this whole story with that woman is! The article states you introduced her to everyone as my relative and claimed that she had a right to stay at the castle… however I don't remember ever giving you my permission to have ladies in the castle."
"Oh, come on, Sylvester, I was a bit tipsy yesterday at the party," I held up my hands in a defensive position. "I was rambling and made up things just for fun… I'm sorry."
"But then… who's this woman? And where is she?" The headmaster arched an eyebrow at me and walked into the middle of the room, looking around, as though expecting to spot her hiding behind the curtain.
"She's Aberforth's wife's second-cousin and I have no idea where she is for the time being… perhaps with Aberforth?" I cast a sideways glance at the four-poster to make sure that my vanishing spell hadn't worn off. Everything seemed to be okay, only a small dent in the pillow indicated that Amelia was lying there.
"Really?" grunted Snape, walking up to the bathroom and stepping in.
"Well… you can look around here if you don't believe me, Sylvester, but I can assure you that you won't catch me hiding ladies at my quarters," I winked at him jovially.
His eyes narrowed and he pressed his lips so firmly together that they became one single, whitish line. "All right, then," he nodded and was just about to leave the bathroom and head for my door when I suddenly thought that the blood had frozen in my veins. There was - in mid-air - an apple floating. It floated slowly towards the bed.
Snape mustn't see this! - my mind screamed.
"Oh, before you leave, would you just… check out my new…" my eyes skimmed the bathroom, trying to find an object to engage the headmaster's attention, then my glance fell upon a… "…rubber duck?"
"Your… what?" Sylvester furrowed his brows.
"My rubber ducky," I pointed at the small yellow object lying on the rim of the tub. "It's something totally modern, Muggles have just started manufacturing these, they're fascinating, don't you think, Sylvester?"
"I think you should lie back down, Albus and sleep until yesterday's drinks lose their effect," Snape replied. Oh goody, he thought I was still drunk!
With a stupid grin that suggested I really wasn't in my right mind, I took some steps backwards and peered out into the bedroom. Luckily no apples were flying anymore. I cursed my stupidity for not telling Amelia not to leave the bed as long as the headmaster was here, but everything had happened so fast that I had had no time to explain it to her. Now an apple-core was lying not far from the bed.
Good, the coast was clear, so I gave the headmaster another idiotic grin and motioned him to leave the bathroom (and that poor rubber duck) alone.
As he walked towards the door that had been left half-ajar after he 'burst' into my quarters, he didn't notice the apple-core lying on the floor. Before I could shout 'WATCH OUT!' or wave my wand to stop him, he had stepped on it and slipped.
In a second the oh-so-haughty headmaster found himself on his bottom and sent me a look he had so willingly practiced on me when I was a child: an icy look that still made me shiver sometimes.
To top my misery, Amelia couldn't hold back her laughter at seeing the revered headmaster slip on an apple-core and her bleating-like giggles filled the room.
"What. Was. That?" Sylvester growled and hoisted himself off the ground.
"An apple-core, I believe," I replied with an angelic-innocent impression.
"Not that… the bleating," he said.
"Oh, that… you know… it must be the flock of goats from the Hogsmeade meadows… sometimes I hear their bleating even here, in my room."
"But… the window is closed," Snape pointed out.
I shrugged. "Those goats have particularly strong voices, Sylvester."
He shot me a 'don't-take-me-for-a-fool' sort of expression.
"Now come on, Sylvester, you can't think I'm having goats in my bedroom!" I sighed dramatically (that was something I had learned from Aberforth again - he could have been a perfect actor).
For a minute Snape seemed to be contemplating his answer - he surely didn't want to look an idiot by thinking I had a goat in my bedroom, then nodded. "All right, then, I'm leaving." His features still revealed that he had doubts about me telling the truth. "You'd better not leave apple-cores lying around, Albus. Such disorder is not allowed at Hogwarts, not for the students, not even for the teachers."
"Certainly, Sylvester, I'll keep that in mind," I replied, praying that he'd clear off at last.
When the door closed behind him, I leaned on it and wiped my forehead. "Whew, that was close."
Suddenly some odd noise caught my ear - the noise was coming from the bed's direction. However, this time it wasn't bleating… it was sniffing.
"Amelia!" I breathed, swished my wand to make her visible and was shocked to see that she was crying. I had never seen this wonderful, beautiful creature cry… it was heart wrenching.
"What is it, Amelia?" I asked in a soothing voice, sat down next to her and took her gently into my arms. She just shook her head and wept, flooding the front of my nightshirt (I hadn't had time to change yet) with her tears.
I knew she couldn't answer me with words, nor could she write (I had started to teach her to read and write, but we had only covered letters A and B so far), yet as soon as her tears ebbed and she looked up at me, her eyes revealed it all: she was blaming herself for Snape almost catching me. She was mad at herself for having let out a small chuckle and getting me into trouble. The thought of getting me into trouble made her cry… and that was when I understood it: she loved me.
L - O - V - E - D ME.
I felt that my heart wanted to skip out of my chest, it beat so fast.
"It's okay, Ami… it's not your fault, don't blame yourself," I said, cupping her chin, making her face me. "It was hard for me as well not to laugh at Snape slipping, you know…"
A small smile appeared on her face and I reached out to wipe her tears away. When my hands made contact with her skin, I felt an electric jolt course through me. It seemed she felt it too, because she stiffened, then grabbed my hands. I don't know how long we were sitting there like that, just gazing at each other's eyes and smiling in a stupid way… it seemed like an eternity, but it still wasn't an eternity, since it suddenly ended with a detonation. The door of my quarters burst in, followed by a flurry of pinkish robes and an unmistakable Becky-ish voice: "ALBUS DUMBLEDORE! I DEMAND AN EXPLANATION AT ONCE!"