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Nineteen Ninety-One

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The credits rolled, and Albus couldn't help but let out a snuffle.

He had to marvel at the patience of Muggles, sometimes. A team of hundreds of people had spent seven years drawing - pencil and paper and puddle-and-push paint - to create, when it was all put together, an hour and a half of... magic. Perhaps there wasn't a binary divide between wizards and Muggles after all, he mused. Perhaps Muggles did have a trace of magic, but it needed to be distilled and concentrated so very, very much before it showed.

Or perhaps that was all the childish imagination of a concerned old wizard.

Albus let out a great sigh, and laid back in his office chair. Harry Potter, the infant who had unwittingly defeated Voldemort, was due to arrive in Hogwarts in one week's time, and he didn't feel ready. The orchestra were re-tuning their instruments, the auditorium had gone dark, and a hush was descending on the audience as Act II was about to begin - and Albus was struck by the twin sensations that he seemed to be the only one aware that it was all about to start up again, and the fact that he hadn't finished eating his ice-cream, yet.

Not to mention the fact that movie-theatres didn't even have intervals any more. It was 1991, and gone were the elegant lines, smartly uniformed attendants and plush velvet curtains that Albus had so enjoyed. No, the latest from the Disney stable seemed to be shown in great concrete bunkers on the outskirts of sad Muggle towns. After a trip the previous year, Albus had taken to transferring the footage to his own drawing room - an act that he understood the Muggles called 'piracy', which he thought was rather quaint.

Oh, but what a marvellous film this latest offering had been. Albus smiled as he thought of Walt - and if he hadn't known better, he would have wondered whether the man had passed on a little of what he'd seen at Hogwarts from beyond the veil. The dancing crockery looked so very much like one of Filius' party tricks. The ballroom, with snow falling outside the windows, sang of the great hall at Christmas on any day when it wasn't actually snowing.

And then there was the mob, the surge of hatred, the curse, and the Beast. Such thoughts gave Albus pause.

A man who had once committed acts of arrogance and unkindness had been doomed to spend his days holed-up in an old castle, atoning for his sins.The Beast had been in solitude save for the other denizens of those walls, and even they were not granted access to his heart.

Intuitively, Albus' hand went to his pocket. The Elder wand throbbed in his palm as he fingered the familiar shaft, pads grating as he gripped a little too hard. How beastly it was, thought Albus, to know too much of fate, and to trust oneself so little to help it.

He sighed, and gazed forlornly about his room. There was the scarred old desk, the piles of dry parchment, and the cabinet of swirling, painful memories - locked and stoppered and taunting. There was the planetarium, dusty from disuse, and Fawkes' perch - empty while he was out hunting. And then, there were the Wizengamot reports of strange goings-on in Albania, which made him shudder. Peace-time is merely an interval between wars, and each age has its own soldiers. As the boy who was unwittingly at the centre of all this was set to assume his place in the wizarding world, Albus knew that the first petal from his own rose was about to fall.

A whisper of breeze on a hillside - so innocent, so playful - was just starting to stir the snow-powder into a trickle, and that trickle would, in time and with the greatest inevitability, rise and roil into a fearsome avalanche. He doubted that he would survive the final impact. The mob was already rising.

The Beast, of course, had been saved by the redeeming power of love, Albus reflected. He sighed once more, sure there was no glimmer of love in the world for one such as him - shuttered and remote and not to be trusted. Indeed, love had been his curse; his undoing. It could never be his salvation.

"Albus? Are you in there?" Minerva's voice travelled up the spiral staircase, bright and excited.

He shook himself, pushing away such maudlin thoughts and affixing his most winning smile. "Yes - my Belle? My Briar Rose? My Aurora?"

She pushed open the door, laughing. "What's got into you, Silly?"

Albus shrugged elegantly, velvet robes sheening in the dusklight. "I'm sure you'll join me in some tea?" Minerva accepted, and settled in the armchair next to his desk. Albus made the milk jug and sugar bowl do a little dance, just for fun, and only when they had both poured and settled did he ask, "So... how did it all go?"

"Excellently, I'm told." Minerva was beaming. "Hagrid's just got back. He said that the shopping trip all went to plan, and young Harry is a delightful boy."

Albus nodded, still smiling, but somehow feeling sick. The moment stretched on. He realised, in an odd kind of slow motion and from far away, that he should be saying, 'how marvellous,' or, 'I'm very glad to hear it; I do hope he'll be in Gryffindor'... but somehow the words didn't seem to be forming.

Minerva glanced up. She eyed him squarely, and then seriously, concern settling on her features. "Albus, what's the matter?"

"Me? Nothing." He snapped himself back to the present, giving an airy waft of the hand, and making a show of adding more sugar to his tea. "Why do you ask?"

Minerva did not dignify that with a reply, and instead searched his face, eyebrows raised in expectation of an answer.

Albus deflated where he sat, caving quite easily. He knew that he could have pretended harder; worn his mask more convincingly - but somehow, deep down, he didn't want to. Minerva was special in that regard. If his inscrutable and ever-present charade was a little thinner and more half-hearted in her company... well, so be it. He didn't care to admit to himself how much he liked it when she asked how he was feeling.

He gave a self-deprecating smile to the middle distance. "As you said, I'm just being silly."

Minerva shook her head. "I'm sure you're not." Accepting that he wasn't going to yield an actual answer, she leaned over to give him a hug - and as she kissed him tenderly on the cheek, Albus' eyes slid closed with questions unasked and hopes so deeply buried they were not even questions.


*****



Later on, when Albus lay in his purple-canopied bed with little commitment to actually going to sleep, the owl came.

Dinner tomorrow evening? -M x



Albus grinned as he scribbled back, Yes, and then drifted off with the sound of a new song softly in his ears: Bittersweet and strange, finding you can change...

Maybe, just maybe, it was right.