Author’s Note: This story was… not inspired, but perhaps catalyzed by Heather Alexander’s song “Life’s Flame.” You can listen to this song at http://www.heatherlands.com/seafire/ (follow the links Her Music and Audio Samples), but I recommend listening to it in a live performance, as I had the privilege to do.
Minerva McGonagall sat in the Headmaster’s…in her office. An outsider might have thought it little changed since Dumbledore’s death, but the few changes of the past week seemed to scream to her.
The cases of silver instruments remained, but they no longer emitted their little puffs of smoke. I don’t even know what half of them do, much less how they work. Perhaps I should have Filius look at them.
Fawkes was gone, though his perch remained. She hadn’t been able to bring herself to remove it. She knew, somehow, that the phoenix wasn’t coming back, but she left the perch alone in the hope that she was wrong. I’m being a silly old woman. I didn’t even like Fawkes all that much.
And of course, there was the new portrait.
“Have you sat for your portrait yet?”
Minerva jumped and a fleeting look of hope crossed her face at the familiar voice. It was gone almost as soon as it came, for she realized it had been the newest portrait that had spoken, not her old friend. Someone younger might not have understood the difference, but Minerva McGonagall was no longer young.
She took a long, slow, settling breath. “No, Albus, I haven’t.”
“You really ought to, you know. You can always sit for another one later, if you wish, and it is a prudent precaution.” The voice was just as calm and reasoned as it had been in life. Minerva would have given a great deal for it to be different in some way.
“I haven’t time at the present,” she snapped.
“And yet you have been sitting here alone, virtually motionless, for several hours.”
Minerva rounded on the portrait. It isn’t Dumbledore, just a shadow of him. He isn’t the Headmaster, and he can’t order me about. She took in a breath, intending to sharply remind him of his place.
And let out her breath in a sigh. Somehow, the portrait had the twinkle in his eye that was so perfectly the Albus she had known in life.
“I’m worried about Harry,” she admitted.
“So am I. A great deal. He has once again lost someone he valued and trusted as a protector.”
“How can you talk about it so calmly?” Minerva’s fury blazed.
“As I have said before, Minerva, death is but the next great adventure. It is something to be prepared for, not feared – which is why you should have your own portrait painted. But I digress. We were speaking of Harry.”
Minerva was a little taken aback. She had never heard a portrait be so...deep, perhaps?
“Do you think he will return to Hogwarts?” She snapped her mouth shut, but the question was out now.
“I do not know,” Dumbledore replied gently. “As you know, I was painted shortly before Harry came to Hogwarts. I know his mind only from what you have told me. As detailed as you have been about his many adventures, I am able to gain only so much knowledge of his mind second-hand.”
“He wouldn’t tell me what you two were doing before you...died,” she probed.
“And neither can I,” the portrait replied. “Whatever it was, it was something I conceived during Harry’s time at Hogwarts. If, as I understand, I told him not to tell anyone, no doubt secrecy was an important element of the task.”
“And now he’s going to try to do it alone,” Minerva said quietly.
Dumbledore paused, and his eyes roamed the office. Was it her imagination, or did his eyes linger on two places? One, she was sure, was Fawkes’ perch, but try as she would, she could not determine the other.
“I think,” the portrait replied, “that even if he does not return, Harry will not be alone or unaided.” He smiled very broadly. “I think Tom Riddle will come to wish he had remembered our school’s motto.
“Draco Dormiens Nunquam Titillandus.”
Author’s Note: Since finishing “Harry Potter and the Price of Freedom,” I’ve moved 2300 miles, gotten a real job, and read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince at least twice. One thing that has not changed is my wonderful beta, OHGinnyfan.