Minerva McGonagall, Headmistress of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, sat in her office, a look of concern crossing her stern features. She was certain she would have heard back from Harry regarding her proposal by now, and was starting to worry about who would fill the Astronomy and Flight positions if he declined. She was beginning to regret her decision to follow the advice of Sirius and Remus, especially now that she re-read a letter she'd received two days before:
"Dear Professor McGonagall,
"I am honoured you have offered me the position as Charms professor at Hogwarts. As you know, it has long been a dream of mine to teach and this opportunity couldn't have come at a better time. Please consider this my acceptance of the position and I look forward to meeting with you Wednesday afternoon to discuss additional details. Will half past three work out all right for you? Please let me know via return owl as soon as you can.
"Thank you again, Professor.
She heard a knock on the door. "Come in, Severus," she said. The door swung open and Severus Snape, deputy headmaster of the school strode into her office, a marked limp marring his once-fluid gait.
"Good afternoon, Minerva," Snape said, his voice still retaining the slightly oily quality it had had for many years. During the years preceding the war, Snape had played the role of Death Eater too well for some, many of whom still wondered about his loyalty to the forces that had won the day. His devotion to the cause of good, however, was unquestioned by those who knew him well. Days before The Fall, Snape had been tortured within an inch of death, only to be rescued by Harry, much to his chagrin. Before slipping into a coma, Snape had revealed what he had learned of Voldemort's final attack plans for the school, which had given Harry, Dumbledore and the Order the advantage they needed to strike. Professor McGonagall had named Snape Deputy Headmaster immediately upon assuming the head position following Dumbledore's death, even though he had spent the first several months of his tenure under the watchful eye of Madam Pomfrey in the hospital wing.
"Good afternoon, Severus," Professor McGonagall said, plucking her reading glasses from her nose and extending a hand of welcome. "You have arrived just in time to share my luncheon, fresh from the kitchens."
"Thank you, no, Minerva," Snape said, stalking over to the window and looking out over the Quidditch pitch. "I was curious whether you'd heard from Potter about the professorship."
McGonagall sighed. "Not yet, I'm afraid, although I have decided to give him until midnight tonight to reply before we begin to consider our other options."
"Why you are wasting your time on this is beyond me, Minerva," Snape muttered. "I am not in the least surprised that Potter has chosen to ignore your gracious offer. Exiling himself outside of the wizarding world for nearly a decade and studying at Oxford, of all places!"
McGonagall uttered an unladylike snort. "Honestly, Severus. That young man performed brilliantly at Oxford and you know it. Besides, when I suggested him for the positions, I distinctly remember you were in agreement. When are you going to give up this antagonistic attitude you have against him?" Severus merely arched a brow. "Well, if he decides not to take the position, it might wind up being for the best after all," McGonagall added wearily.
"And why is that?" Severus asked, looking at McGonagall's collection of books relating to the care and treatment of magical felines.
"You remember we received an acceptance from Miss Weasley for the Charms position on Monday? She is arriving for her initial meeting with me within the hour."
Snape blinked. "I'm afraid I don't see your point, Minerva."
"Merlin's beard! Have you forgotten that Miss Weasley and Mr Potter were a couple during their last years here? That, when the war ended, they broke things off rather abruptly?"
It was Snape's turn to snort. "Why on earth would I care about Potter's love life? If you will recall, towards the end of the war I was a little preoccupied playing the double agent."
McGonagall rolled her eyes and leveled one of her trademark frowns in his direction. "Severus, you would have had to have been blind not to notice the two of them! I can't remember the number of times I wound up taking house points from the both of them as a result of their late night excursions to the kitchens, let alone their obvious appreciation of the school's broom closets."
"Be that as it may, I simply fail to see how any of this has to do with our current dilemma: staffing the Astronomy and Flight positions."
McGonagall frowned. "If the two of them were trouble back when they were a couple, I shudder to think about the fireworks we would have if the two of them were here teaching now that they are no longer speaking on speaking terms!"
"Decisions, decisions," Snape said, plucking a bacon sandwich from the tray on McGonagall's desk and starting for the door. "That's why you are the headmistress, Minerva. Please let me know how your meeting with Weasley goes. I'll be in the dungeon working on Lupin's Wolfsbane." He opened the door, triggering the staircase to begin its ascent from below. "Thank you for the sandwich."
"He would take the only bacon sandwich," McGonagall muttered, glancing at the tray beside her.
At a quarter after three, Ginny Weasley Apparated into the office of the Weasley's Wizard Wheezes store in Hogsmeade, smiling with excitement. She could hardly believe her good fortune at being asked to teach at Hogwarts. When she'd said the timing couldn't have been better, she hadn't been kidding. She had felt restless at St. Mungo's, where she worked as a mediwizard specializing in healing charms dating back to the days before Charlemagne. Even though the work was rewarding, it simply wasn't what she wanted to do. From the time she was a little girl in primary school she'd wanted to be a teacher. There was something…well…magical about the process of discovery that was inherent in the educational process. Having the opportunity to lead young wizards and witches along that path of discovery filled her with anticipation.
When Ginny'd left school, she had scored the highest NEWTS in Charms in close to a century. Even Hermione was shocked at how well Ginny performed, experiencing not a small amount of envy. Of course, Ginny had had plenty of time to work on her Charms – staying busy was one of the only things that got her through that year following The Fall. A shadow crossed her face, marring her lovely features for only a moment. There were days when the grief over her losses was as razor sharp as it had been nearly a decade before. Most days, however, she was able to find joy in her family, friends and work.
In the few years immediately following her days at Hogwarts, Ginny had worked with the Ministry of Magic in the Department of Restoration, where she'd plied her skills upon various magical locations that had been decimated by the war. There were thousands of artifacts, buildings and wards which had needed repair, and Ginny and her team had been able to bring many of these things back to normal within record time. She'd gone on to complete Advanced Charms at Rouen Universite du Sorcières in France, and had been practicing medi-charms at the hospital when Professor McGonagall's owl had arrived.
The door to the shop's office burst open, causing Ginny to leap in fright and screech out loud. A brawny, red headed man stood in the doorway holding a beater's bat, and didn't appear to be afraid to use it.
"Ginny! Cor blimey, woman! You scared the living daylights out of me!" Laying a hand on his heart, he leaned against the doorframe. "You just don't go Apparating into someone's shop unannounced!"
"Sorry about that, Fred! I should have called out when I arrived," she said, smiling sheepishly. "Besides, I told George I would be arriving about now for my meeting up at the school. How was I to know he didn't tell you?"
"George has been out at Diagon Alley with the real estate agent. You know how much I hate dithering around with that. In any event, it's good you're here. You can help me with an experiment I've been working on."
Ginny shielded herself with her hands and shook her head. "Are you mad? I've got to go and meet Professor McGonagall in less than fifteen minutes and you think I'm going to fall for a line that old?"
Fred shrugged, "It was worth a try, ickle Ginnykins!"
Ginny laughed. "Ten points for effort, though," she said as she walked through the office door and into the main area near a barrel of Canary Cremes. Running a brush through her hair, she performed a pirouette. "How do I look?"
Fred stood back to look at his baby sister, who wasn't a baby any longer. She was as small as a pixie, but her bearing made her appear much taller than she was. Her hair, the color of the maple leaves in autumn, fell in a satin stream down her back to her waist. Her chestnut eyes twinkled mischievously as she fussed with her new robes, a gift from her brother Bill. 'A new teacher should have new robes,' he'd said with pride, as he'd handed Ginny the package containing the azure blue satin robes.
"You look gorgeous as usual, Gin," Fred said, giving her a kiss on the cheek and walking her to the door. "Good luck today!"
"Thanks Fred," she said as she stepped out into the mid-afternoon sun and started up the road towards Hogwarts.
"Hey! By the way," said the figure standing in the doorway, "I'm George!"
As Ginny walked past the small shops and cottages which made up Hogsmeade, she came to the square where a 20 foot, snowy-white marble obelisk stood surrounded by a reflecting pool set in jet black marble. The word "Remember" was rough-hewn into the top of the obelisk, while water gently cascaded from the top, down the sides and into the pool below. Inscribed in gilt lettering along the base of the monument were the names of those who had fallen during the War between Light and Dark.
She had been dreading this section of road since she arrived at the shop moments ago. Her eyes were involuntarily drawn to one inscription in particular: Charles Arthur Weasley.
Charlie, commander of the Dragon Brigade, had fallen during the final battle in Hogsmeade, which occurred hours before the assault on Hogwarts. Charlie's group had been successful in bringing down the scores of zombies and vampires – Voldemort's foot soldiers – which had been making their way through the town towards the gates of the school. The last of the zombies had flung a Conjunctivitus curse at Charlie's dragon as he flew low for the kill. Agonized, the dragon had begun to buck wildly, catching Charlie by surprise and causing him to lose his grip on the reins. He'd fallen thirty feet and died instantly. Although his body had been horribly broken, his face had remained unmarked, oddly peaceful in death.
The memory of Charlie's death mask assailed Ginny's memory with the icy sharpness of a winter wind. Despite the warmth of the day, Ginny pulled her wrap closer around her shoulders to ward off the sudden chill the air seemed to take. She shook herself out of her thoughts and continued towards the school gates.
Walking the grounds of the school brought back memories of good days and bad, intermingled and entwined. The lake lay in the distance, a shimmering blue next to the deep green of the grass of its shores. She saw a lazy tentacle waver above the surface for a moment and smiled: how many times had she and Harry watched the squid chase the mer-children around in a game of tag? She allowed herself to remember him: inky black hair, always disheveled, always boyish. He fussed with it more often than he realized. Her favorite memory of him was when he was 16 and finally growing into his own hands and feet, and grew to reach a full six feet in height, five inches shorter that his best friend Ron. He was no where near as brawny as Ron, but had the lean musculature of a runner…or a Seeker. Once Harry had attained his new height, he had been concerned his game would suffer – historically, Seekers were always fairly short and wiry. However, his reflexes had remained as sharp as ever, and his added reach had often given Gryffindor the advantage in close quarters.
He was 16 when he'd finally got up enough nerve to ask her for a walk around the lake one evening after dinner, earning him a shy acceptance from her, a look of shock from Ron and a howler from Fred, George and Percy the following day. It had been on that walk that he'd kissed her for the first time, near the lake under a cloudless evening sky. He'd taken a fair amount of ribbing from his dorm mates that night, and a long heart-to-heart talk when he'd promised his best friend Ron he would never hurt her. Ever.
Sadly, Harry would break that promise 18 months later.
Ginny stumbled slightly; she had reached the main steps to the school. She had expected to think of Harry when she reached the school grounds, but there was no reason to mull over the past. He'd given up any right or privilege he may have had over her heart. She straightened her robes, lifted her chin and walked through the door towards her future.
"Now, Miss Weasley," said Professor McGonagall as they walked through the Charms classroom, "all staff are expected to report for pre-term preparations one week before start of term. We will have basic supplies available to you upon your arrival the week before term begins. If you have anything that requires special ordering, it is best if you get to it within the week to ensure its timely arrival."
"Yes, Profess…I mean Minerva," Ginny said, her cheeks flaming. "That will take some getting used to!"
Professor McGonagall smiled. "I understand, dear. When I was a novice teacher, it nearly took me a year before I could call Professor Dumbledore by his given name!" Her smile took on a sadness. "There isn't a day that goes by that I don't miss him, Ginny. His presence is here; it's palpable…"
"But it's not the same," Ginny said, laying a hand on McGonagall's arm and smiling into her eyes. "I understand completely."
"Of course you do, dear," McGonagall said, withdrawing a tartan hankie and blowing her nose, none too daintily. "We require all staff to use our formal names whenever we are in the presence of the students. If calling me 'Minerva' is too much for now, please feel free to address me as 'Headmistress'."
"Thank you, Headmistress," Ginny said gratefully.
"Professor Flitwick will be arriving tomorrow to finish packing his personal belongings. After that, you are more than welcome to come and start getting your classroom and office settled." She smiled at Ginny. "Now that the formalities have been completed, shall we go to my office for afternoon tea?"
"That would be lovely, Headmistress," Ginny said, trying to mask the small grumble her stomach chose to utter at that moment, "however, I do have a question. It was my understanding that both the Astronomy and Flight positions were to be filled this summer. Have you heard any word from your candidates? It might be helpful if we new teachers were able to become better acquainted during the next few weeks."
Professor McGonagall winced. She had hoped Ginny wouldn't ask her about this; their meeting had been going so well.
Ginny seemed to detect something was amiss. "Headmistress, are you all right?"
"Yes, dear," Professor McGonagall said, her voice slightly strained. "You see, we did offer the posts to someone; however, we haven't heard from him yet."
"You've found someone to fill both positions? How wonderful, Headmistress! Who is it? Do I know him?"
Professor McGonagall gazed heavenward. She knew Albus must be enjoying this immensely. "As a matter of fact, you do, Ginny." She drew in a breath. Just as she was about to speak, the door to the classroom burst opened. Both of the women jumped. It was Severus and he had a gleam in his eye.
"Severus! What on earth is it?"
"Headmistress, it appears your prayers are answered. Look who I found lurking about your office doorway." He stepped aside, ushering Harry Potter through the door.
A/N: Many thanks to my tag team betas Ahmie and Aihbinn for their assistance on this one! There's a big confrontation on the way so stay tuned and read/review! Thanks!