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If Only

By Mamacita

Romance

Chapter 1

A single perfect daffodil lay on Minerva McGonagall’s plate. Dumbledore saw it when he ascended the dais to take his own place at the staff table for breakfast. His twinkling eyes met the amused green gaze of Professor Flitwick, who looked meaningfully at the daffodil and waggled his eyebrows at Dumbledore.

Minerva, it would appear, had a secret admirer.

Just then the door to the side corridor opened and both men hastily assumed too-innocent looks as Minerva entered. She looked from one to the other of them suspiciously, then her gaze fell to the plate sitting at the empty place between them where she customarily sat. When she spied the flower her steps faltered just the slightest bit, but she quickly recovered and walked briskly to her chair.

She stared down at the flower with grim acceptance—or perhaps it was resignation. Dumbledore reached to pull out her chair. Minerva looked at him sharply, but he merely smiled and said brightly, “Good morning, Minerva!”

“Er—yes, good morning, Albus,” she murmured. She glanced at Flitwick, who bowed in her direction from where he sat, and Minerva inclined her head in greeting. She picked up the napkin beside her plate and with an expert flourish draped it across her lap.

Instantly the delicate rosebud teacup at her place filled with steaming hot tea, and she picked it up gratefully and inhaled the delicate aroma before taking a sip. Her eyes roamed the Great Hall, and she noted there were quite a few more students present for breakfast than usual. Probably because it’s a Hogsmeade Saturday, she thought. Even students who on school days normally opted for a bit more time in bed over getting up in time for breakfast usually made the effort on Hogsmeade days. But then, she mused, I was the same way—anything for an extra half-hour of sleep after a late night of studying.

“Toast?” Dumbledore asked solicitously, jarring her out of her thoughts, and Minerva turned to see him proffering the toast rack.

“Oh—er, certainly,” she said, and took two pieces. Then she sighed...and looked at her plate again. No—no, there it was still. The daffodil had not miraculously disappeared, even though she’d tried to ignore it. She picked it up so she could put the toast on her plate. Twirling the stem absently, she glanced around the Great Hall again, wondering—in vain, and not for the first time—who could be leaving her all these little gifts.

Because this was not the first. Oh, no. No, it had been—she thought back—yes, it had begun nearly four months ago.

On Valentine’s Day.

She snorted to herself, remembering. She had arrived at breakfast on Valentine’s Day to find a perfect red rose on her plate. Beneath it was a folded piece of parchment. Mystified, she had opened the note to find a poem (if you could call it that):

Roses are red,

Violets are blue.

I’ve loved you forever—

Could you love me, too?

Dumbledore, reading unashamedly over her shoulder, had twinkled madly and said, “Why, Minerva, I believe you have an admirer!” Every head within earshot had swiveled unerringly to focus on her fiery countenance as Dumbledore added slyly, nodding at the rose, “Oh, yes—red for passion, you know.” Septima Sinistra and Xiomara Hooch had both dissolved into uncharacteristic giggles, unable to hold in their merriment; and Flitwick, blast him, had whipped out an enormous handkerchief and buried his face in it in a wholly unconvincing fit of coughing.

Minerva had glared at Dumbledore with deep suspicion. “Really, Albus,” she said stiffly, “if this is your idea of a practical joke—” But he had appeared genuinely astonished that she would think such a thing, and she had to admit that his protests did seem sincere. Her curiosity had gone unsatisfied ever since; a new token appeared at her place each morning without fail, but try as she might she was unable to discover who the mysterious gift-giver was.

And she had tried: detection spells (the things couldn’t have got there by themselves, after all; but for all the success she had with her spells, they might as well have), frequent passes through the Great Hall at odd hours of the night when it was her turn on curfew patrol (she found the odd couple canoodling in deserted corners, but none of them in or near the Great Hall)—she had even, in desperation, determined to stay all night in the Great Hall to catch the person in the very act of sneaking in to leave the daily offering. But she’d been so exhausted from all the late nights patrolling corridors that she’d fallen asleep almost as soon as she’d settled into her chair.

She was awakened the next morning by the smell of coffee and toast, and found that not only did she have more wrinkles than usual on her face due to the fact that her shawl had got bunched up under her cheek during the night, but a large box of particularly toothsome chocolate truffles was clutched in her hand. Someone had crept in while she slept and put it into her hand! She was mortified.

Albus, blast him, seemed to think it was all quite funny. He had rather meanly pointed out that she had a bit of drool on her chin—just there—and said he really must see about having the curfew patrol rotation changed, can’t have the staff falling asleep at breakfast, ha ha. Even now she writhed, remembering.

Now, more than three months later, she still had no idea who was leaving the dratted things. Part of her still suspected Dumbledore; after all, he had indicated his interest in her several times over the years, and she was fairly sure, from glances she intercepted every so often, that his interest burned as brightly as ever, even though she’d told him long ago that she didn’t think it set a good example for the students for the Headmaster and a Professor to carry on romantically. She was rather sorry to have to be the voice of reason; and, perversely, she found his persistence gratifying.

As she buttered her toast, she sighed and shook her head. Well, at least it was only flowers and chocolates, she thought. Although that poem, silly as it was...did someone really feel that way about her? Or was she merely the butt of a very elaborate private joke? She picked up the daffodil again and stared at it, wondering, as she ate her toast.

From across the Great Hall a pair of eyes watched as Minerva picked up the flower and toyed with it absently. The watcher fervently wished that he could press kisses all along every one of those lovely, talented fingers. He had often stood unnoticed outside her classroom and watched in silent admiration as she effortlessly Transfigured items for the edification of her students.

He snorted. They didn’t appreciate her talent. Not like he did. Of course, his admiration was tinged—just a bit—with envy. He knew he could never hope to wield a wand with such perfect results. It seemed so unkind, sometimes: he, who loved everything about magic and would have put all his heart and soul into learning everything there was to know about it (what the Granger chit knew wasn’t a patch on what he would have learnt)—and the students, who took magic for granted and complained about how much work it was. Complained, if you please! Little toerags, the lot of ‘em.

But then, life was unfair any way you looked at it. Here he was, a pureblood who had no magic, having to put up with the spoiled little rotters day in and day out. He didn’t have magic to make his life easier—no, not he. But he knew his duty, and he did it, didn’t he, because it meant he could at least be here, amid the world he loved, even if he was denied his rightful place in it.

He could be here with the woman he adored, even if she remained serenely unaware that he would gladly have thrown himself in front of twenty rampaging Basilisks just on the off chance that she might turn that rare, melting smile in his direction.

If only he were brave enough to tell her it was he who had left the gifts, tokens of the love she inspired in him. But he didn’t know whether she would understand. Who was he, to love someone like her? Somehow, even to him it seemed she could do so much better. After all, what did he have to offer her? It was absurd, he told himself sternly for the fortieth time. She was a Professor, an expert in her field. He was a Squib—a lowly caretaker—a mere hanger-on, really, who had only obtained his position through Dumbledore’s kind offices.

Argus Filch took one last look at the tartan-clad object of his affections and slowly turned to leave the Great Hall. “Mrow?” came a soft inquiry from the region of his feet. He looked down into the wise orange eyes of his cat, Mrs. Norris.

“Ah, my sweet,” he said caressingly as he bent to pick her up. “Yes, yes, there’s my sweet girl,” he crooned; but although he stroked the cat’s fur, it was not she at whom he looked when he spoke.

Ron and Harry, walking past Filch on their way out of the Great Hall just then, looked at him rather oddly and he turned an unpleasant shade of puce. “Move along, there—don’t stand about gawking,” he growled. Ron gulped and hurried up a bit, but Harry looked back at the staff table, where Minerva still sat bemusedly twirling the daffodil, and then back at Filch. Harry’s expression was far too knowing for Filch’s peace of mind. Harry said nothing, but he looked at Filch with considerably more interest than usual.

With an impatient huff, Filch pushed past him and headed down the corridor to his office. He looked back to see Harry still staring after him, so he entered hastily and abruptly slammed the door behind him.

Harry ran to catch up to Ron, who was waiting at the main doors. That was interesting, Harry thought to himself. Disturbing...but interesting.

“What took you so long?” Ron wanted to know.

Harry grinned. “I’ll tell you, but you’re not going to believe me....”


Permission slips had been handed in at the first Hogsmeade visit of the school year, so Filch’s presence at this morning’s departure was largely for the sake of taking a head-count before the students scattered for the day. He stood on the bottom step above the courtyard with his usual sour expression firmly in pace and surveyed the crowd of chattering students. His eyes swept across the bright, animated faces, stopping suddenly when they came to Harry, who was staring at him. The Weasley boy and the Granger chit were with him, and they stole surreptitious glances at Filch as they whispered about something.

Then Ron snorted with laughter and Hermione stared at Harry, appearing positively horrified. They were far enough away that Filch couldn’t hear what was being said, but Harry was evidently being quite adamant about something. Suddenly all three heads turned as one to look at Filch, Ron and Hermione’s mouths hanging open inelegantly in identical comical expressions of disbelief.

Filch’s gaze narrowed. What were they up to? Hermione suddenly seemed to realize he was staring back at them rather too intently, for she tugged at the boys’ sleeves and said something, jerking her head in Filch’s direction. Ron paled; Harry looked stricken; and Hermione quickly assumed a casual expression. Filch snorted. So Potter had been telling them—what? That Filch had been staring like a lovesick fool at Professor McGonagall, he supposed glumly. Well, now he’d gone and done it. If the students knew, Minerva would surely hear of it in no time. He sighed gustily.

And jumped when a familiar voice behind him murmured, “My, Argus—such a heavy sigh on a beautiful day like this?” Minerva appeared beside him, and he immediately straightened and put on an expression that was, for him, nearly pleasant.

“Mornin’, Professor,” he said. “Just doing the head-count afore you leave.” She was radiant today, he thought. The sun was burning through the soft morning mist and it lit her hair, caressing every fiery strand that still remained among the gray, unlike inside the school where the light was dim and colors lost their intensity. He found his hand reaching out to touch and immediately brought it ruthlessly back to his side.

Minerva appeared not to have noticed. “And how many are we this morning, Argus?” she asked brightly.

Filch cleared his throat. “Ah...forty-three going today, Professor.”

“Very good.” Minerva clapped her pointed hat onto her head and Filch almost groaned with disappointment when it hid most of her hair from view. Minerva looked at him in concern. “Are you quite all right, Argus?” she asked kindly. “Perhaps you ought to see Poppy about some Pepper-Up Potion.”

He nodded, not really hearing what she said, lost in her laughing blue eyes. Tiny wrinkles fanned out along the sides of them when she smiled, and he found himself wanting to place a kiss on every single one.

“Argus?” she repeated. She laid a hand on his arm and he trembled. Professor Minerva McGonagall never knew how close she came that day to being bent over the arm of Argus Filch and roundly kissed, students or no students.

“Er—” He broke out of his delicious reverie and realized he’d been standing there like an idiot, daydreaming. Several students nearby were sniggering—at him, he was sure—and Minerva was still waiting for him to say something.

With an enormous effort he pulled himself together and said, “Thank you, Professor. Perhaps I will, at that.” He patted her hand and gently removed it from his coat sleeve—it was as soft as he’d always known it would be—and bowed politely. “Off you go, now.”

Minerva smiled uncertainly. “Will you be coming with us today?” she asked, stepping down onto the cobblestones of the yard.

“No, Professor, no. Lots to do today—plenty to keep me busy,” he said regretfully. Although it would be pleasant to spend the day with her, he thought. Well, perhaps he would go one of these days—maybe on the first Hogsmeade day of the next school year. He imagined Minerva standing in the sun then as she was now, her ruddy hair reflecting the glorious autumn colors around them, her—

“Albus!”

—her...Albus? Thus rudely interrupted, Filch swung round to see Dumbledore approaching them, his damnable eyes at their twinkliest.

“Good morning, good morning,” the Headmaster greeted them cheerily. “Do you know, I was just thinking what a long time it’s been since I went on a Saturday Hogsmeade visit.”

Minerva looked positively delighted. “Oh—do you mean—you want to go with us?” she said, beaming. Filch looked on jealously, unable to protest although he wanted to.

“Indeed, I would very much like to spend the day with you,” Dumbledore said. He held out his arm for Minerva to take, which she did with alacrity. “Perhaps a spot of lunch later on? You know, we so seldom get to spend any time together away from the school, my dear. It sounds positively delightful.” The look he gave her over the tops of his spectacles seemed unnecessarily significant, and Filch wondered suspiciously what the man was up to. Nothing good, he was certain.

“Well,” Minerva said, a bit puzzled by this unusual circumstance but rather pleased about it, “that—that would be lovely.” Her eyes shone, and Filch thought she had never looked more beautiful.

Without so much as a glance in his direction, Minerva and Dumbledore swept across the courtyard and started down the lawn, the students trailing behind them as they headed for the school gates. Filch watched them go, his heart clenching painfully at the sight of Minerva’s ridiculous pointed hat bobbing as she laughed and chatted animatedly with Dumbledore. Suddenly he had the most awful feeling of foreboding. Was Dumbledore going to—surely he wouldn’t—and Minerva? Unthinkable! A variety of riotous thoughts tumbled together in his mind and in no time at all he had come to a totally erroneous conclusion, even if it was somewhat understandable under the circumstances.

He stood there, unable to make his feet move, until the procession had passed through the school gates and Hagrid had dutifully swung them shut behind the group with a loud clang. Like prison gates, Filch thought, closing him into his solitary life in this dismal old pile, infested with students who would as soon hex him as look at him.

He turned and slowly went back up the stairs to the entry hall, his feet feeling ten times heavier than usual, berating himself for not having agreed with Minerva’s suggestion that he accompany them—her—to Hogsmeade. It should have been his arm she clung to all the way there (and back as well, he might have dared hope), him she chatted with so gaily as they walked along; even, perhaps, he who shared that private talk with her. He really thought he could have gathered his courage sufficiently to declare himself then, if only....

If only. Were there ever two more wretched words in the English language? he wondered dismally.

Filch felt very sorry for himself as he made his way to his office and flung himself into his worn, creaky desk chair that was missing two of the four wheels so that it slanted down in front, always making him feel as if he might fall out of it at any moment.

Suddenly weary despite the early hour, he reached for the Daily Prophet he’d found lying discarded on the Slytherin table in the Great Hall after breakfast, no doubt by someone who had been raised to believe that house-elves had been put on the planet solely to pick up after them. Snot-nosed brats. He smoothed the crumpled newspaper and paged through it half-heartedly, but none of the stories interested him.

He continued to flip pages in a desultory manner until he reached the very last page. And there it was, glaring up at him in bold seventy-two-point typeface: “Help Wanted”.

He wasn’t sure why the words caught his eye; they held no particular significance for him, did they? He was already employed. Then the word “Squib” jumped off the page a bit further down, in one of the advertisements, and Filch snapped out of his funk and began to read in earnest. A moment later he sat back with an odd look on his face, somewhere between stunned and hopeful.

“I wonder...” he said to himself. His eyes flicked back down to the page and he read the ad again. He picked up a quill and dipped it into a pot of the red ink he favored for printing his warning signs and detention notices, and carefully circled the ad. He tapped the quill against the desk thoughtfully and stared at the newsprint until it blurred before his eyes.

“Mrow?” Mrs. Norris jumped up into his lap, purring and kneading and smelling, not to put too fine a point on it, rather like mouse.

“What is it, pet?” he asked, stroking her soft ears. Mrs. Norris put a paw on the newspaper and appeared to read it—for all Filch knew, was reading it. He felt sure she possessed talents of which even he was not aware, and it would not have surprised him a whit to find that she could read.

He tapped the ad with the quill and said, “What do you think, me darling?” There was a soft grunt from the cat. After a moment she jumped onto the desk and turned round to face Filch, sitting down and arranging her tail neatly round her paws.

“Yowr,” she pronounced, and looked down at the ad Filch had circled. “Rrr-ow?”

He nodded slowly. “Thought it couldn’t hurt to ask,” he said with a shrug. “I was never their favorite person, but—well, it does say they specifically want a Squib.”

Mrs. Norris stared at him, her head tilted to one side. “Mrrr?” she prodded.

He sighed. “I’ve been here most of me life, pet,” he said sadly. “But...there’s nothing here for me any more. I don’t know as there ever was, not really. I just didn’t realize it until now. Perhaps it’s time to move on, Mrs. Norris. What do you think, old girl—if they say yes, will you come with me, eh?” He leaned an elbow on the table and stared into the orange eyes just inches from his own.

Mrs. Norris reached out a paw and gently tapped his nose. “Grr-owrr,” she said quietly.

They held each other’s gazes for a short time longer, Mrs. Norris sending love and comfort to Filch through her warm eyes. (It seems a shame to mention that she was really just feeling rather full of mouse and was contemplating a nap before her next meal; in any case Filch felt better after what he fondly imagined to be their silent communion.)

“Right, then,” he said. He got up and rummaged around in his capacious file cabinet until he found a relatively clean piece of parchment; then he sat down to compose a letter in answer to the ad. After much agonizing over the wording, and being greatly tempted to hang up the whole idea as ridiculous and hopeless, he finally put down his quill.

“I’m off to the Owlery,” he announced. Mrs. Norris twitched the tip of her tail but did not deign to get up to accompany him, so Filch strode off quickly, before he could change his mind. He selected one of the school owls, an ordinary tawny, and tied the parchment securely to its leg. Looking around furtively to make certain no one was about, he quietly told the owl its destination. Then, “You’re sure you understand?” he asked, and received a friendly hoot in reply. “Right, then, off you go.” The owl soared into the sky and was soon a mere speck in the distance.

Unsure what to do with himself until the reply should arrive, Filch ambled down to the lake for a bit, then took a stroll to the greenhouses. When he found himself at the top of the Astronomy tower a short time later, he realized with a start what he was doing.

He was saying goodbye.

Even thought he couldn’t quite make himself believe he had any real chance of getting the job, he felt strangely compelled to revisit his favorite places around the castle, for no better reason than to look at them.

He strolled through Pomona Sprout’s rose garden, admiring the tenderly cared-for blooms. He stood at the rail of the rickety old covered bridge that spanned the little gorge between the school and the sloping lawn that led down to the Forbidden Forest, and wondered if he would still be there that winter, when the forest would be beautified by a blanket of snow.

He gazed down the hill at Hagrid’s hut. There was no welcoming spiral of smoke coming from the chimney today; Hagrid was in Diagon Alley, taking the school brooms in for their annual servicing.

Filch wandered out onto the Quidditch pitch and turned to look up at the stands. There was the Gryffindor stand, where Minerva had presided as scorekeeper for so many years. He looked away quickly; there was no point in thinking of that.

Something caught his eye and he glanced up to see the owl he’d sent off returning with a piece of parchment tied to its leg. It landed on the wooden gate next to him and stuck out its foot, an avian balancing act that always amused Filch. He gently removed the parchment and reached into his pocket for one of the owl treats he habitually carried. The owl nibbled his finger and accepted the treat, then flew off back to the Owlery to enjoy it.

Filch stared at the parchment, his mouth dry...with excitement? Nerves? He could not have said precisely which it was. He turned the packet over and examined the scarlet wax seal on the back, with its distinctive triple W design. It was only a small piece of parchment with a single fold. Was that good or bad? After all, he thought, it took very little space to write “No”, and very little more to write “Hell no, you must be joking.”

He stood there for the longest time, wanting to open the letter but unable to move. Finally he slid one thick thumbnail under the seal and opened the letter. He glanced down quickly and saw to his amazement that the letter did not say “no”, or anything like it. With mounting excitement he read:

Dear Filch:

You can imagine our surprise at receiving your letter in response to our ad. We had no idea you were thinking of leaving Hogwarts, or that you would have any interest in working for former students who no doubt contributed, shall we say, to making seven of your years at Hogwarts less than pleasant.

One of us will arrive at Hogwarts shortly following this letter to speak with you in person; we would like to meet face to face to discuss whether you think you can work with us day in and day out. My brother or I will meet you at 1 p.m. outside the school gates, if you will be so kind as to admit us.

Sincerely,

George Weasley

Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes

Filch hauled out his pocket watch and opened it—12:52. He hied his steps at once in the direction of the gates and arrived just as a popping sound heralded Fred Weasley’s appearance in the lane outside. At once Filch unchained the gates and swung one side open for Fred to enter. They stood there appraising each other for a moment in silence.

Filch thought with a start how very adult Fred looked. He still had an air of imminent laughter about him, but in some indefinable way he seemed more serious than he had when he was a student; there was a subtle air of maturity about him. Filch supposed it came of running his own business. He had a good idea, at least judging by the large quantity of Weasley contraband he regularly confiscated from the students, of just how successful that business had become.

Fred looked at Filch and thought with amazement how old he looked. Somehow when he and George had been at Hogwarts playing their practical jokes and trying to stay one step ahead of the caretaker to avoid detentions, Filch had seemed so formidable. Now he just looked old and...sad, somehow. Beaten.

Fred held out his hand. “Filch,” he said, his voice neutral.

Filch took hit and shook it once. “Weasley,” he replied. “Fred Weasley, if I’m not mistaken.”

Fred was startled into a laugh. “Very good. How did you know?”

Filch shrugged. “Seven years of watching you get into trouble, most likely,” he said laconically. “So now you’re making a living at it, eh?”

Fred nodded. “A good one. I was surprised to see your letter applying for the position we advertised,” he said, coming right to the point.

“Ah.” Filch nodded. He indicated an ornamental bench a short distance away. “Shall we?” Fred nodded and they walked over and sat down.

“So...you want to know why I inquired about the position?” Filch asked hesitantly.

“Well, not exactly. You needn’t tell me your reasons if you don’t want to,” Fred said. “It’s just we had no idea you were thinking of leaving Hogwarts.” He shot a glance at Filch. “Does Dumbledore know?” he asked.

Filch looked at Fred in consternation. “Merlin’s beard, no!” he said emphatically. Then, realizing how that sounded, he amended his tone of voice. “No, and I want to be the one to tell him.” He waited until Fred nodded. “I...I just think it’s time for a change,” Filch said. “I’m not getting any younger, and there’s really nothing here for me.” The sad look crossed his face again, and Fred found himself entertaining the crazy notion that perhaps Filch had been disappointed in love or something. He snorted—of course that was ridiculous. But Filch did seem to be serious about his intention to leave Hogwarts.

“So you wouldn’t have a problem working with me and George and Lee Jordan?” Fred pressed. “You really don’t have a problem with that?”

“Did you really mean it about lodgings above the shop being offered as part of the—the—”

“Perks?” Fred supplied.

“Aye, the perks of the job?” Filch countered.

“Absolutely. Terms all as stated in the ad. When can you start?”

“Ah...school is out in two weeks,” Filch said weakly. Everything was moving so fast; his head was swimming. Was he really doing this?

He was.

He did.

“I can—er—come down two weeks from today, Mr., er—” Filch floundered, unsure of the etiquette of the situation. What did one call a former student who was about to become one’s employer?

“I think you’d better call me Fred,” said Fred casually. “Avoids confusion between me and George, you know? Besides, we’re not really big on formality.”

“Ah. Yes, all right. So...two weeks from today...Fred.”

“Done!” Fred said cheerfully. “Look, I’d love to stand you a drink to celebrate, but it’s the start of our busiest time just now so it’ll have to wait until you come down to London. Besides, then George and Lee can get in on it.” He got up and led the way back to the gates.

“I understand you wanting to see out the school year and all,” he said, “but cor, it’s too bad you can’t come back with me today. There’s enough work to keep three extra sets of hands busy!” He held out his hand once again. “Still, whenever you can get there you’ll be welcome. I’ll make sure we have all the boxes out of your flat before the two weeks are up, at any rate!”

Filch rather dazedly shook hands and watched as Fred turned on the spot and Disapparated. Filch pulled the gates shut and walked back to the school and into his office, where Mrs. Norris was engaged in a rather strenuous bath atop the Daily Prophet.

Filch shut the door and Mrs. Norris looked up. “Rrrowr?” she asked, scanning his face.

“We, my love, are going to live in London,” Filch whispered, still unable to believe it was real. Mrs. Norris started to purr loudly, and suddenly Filch laughed. “Yes, you may well purr,” he said. “You aren’t the one who has to do all the packing!”


That night after dinner Filch went back to his office and took a good look round, wondering what he should take with him and what should be left behind. Over forty years’ worth of possessions had accumulated on his walls and shelves and tables; there was no way it would all fit into the tiny flat above Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes that came with the job.

He was sitting at his desk, sunk in melancholy reminiscence over a handful of Sirius Black and James Potter’s old detention slips, when there was a knock at the door.

“Come in!” he barked, scrambling to remember whether one of the students was supposed to report for detention.

But when the door opened it was Dumbledore who stood there. “Ah, Argus—if I might have a word?” he asked lightly, proceeding into the office.

As if I have a choice, Filch thought resentfully. He had never before harbored any ill-will toward Dumbledore, but after his discovery this morning of what he firmly believed to be Dumbledore’s perfidy, it was all Filch could do to remain civil. He put on what might have passed for a smile to anyone less observant than Dumbledore, and reluctantly got to his feet. “Headmaster,” he acknowledged.

Dumbledore glanced down at the desk and saw the ad circled in red. “What’s this?” he asked, picking up the newspaper. “Doing a bit of job-hunting, are you?” he said, turning a searching look on Filch.

Filch met his eyes squarely and his head came up. “Yes,” he said shortly.

“I see. I was unaware that you wished to leave the school. Is there...anything you wish to tell me, Argus?” They looked at each other for a long moment.

Then Filch nodded. “I should like to tender my notice, Headmaster,” he said quietly. Dumbledore looked rather startled, but merely folded his hands in front of him and waited for Filch to continue. “I shall be taking up a position in Diagon Alley in two weeks’ time,” Filch continued more boldly. “They wanted me sooner, but I know my duty to you and the school and I won’t shirk it, Headmaster. You have my word on it.”

Dumbledore looked at him sharply. “You understand, of course, that this comes as something of a shock. I hadn’t realized you were unhappy here, Argus. I suppose it’s true that your job might not be very—er—satisfying at times, but...dear me, I really don’t know what to say.” He paused thoughtfully. Then his head shot up and he gave Filch a knowing look. “Does this sudden decision by any chance have anything to do with Minerva?”

Filch stared at him, dumbstruck. “M-min—wh-why, I don’t know what you mean,” he stammered weakly.

“Come now, Argus. The little gifts—the poems—surely you want Minerva to know all those heartfelt tokens were from you?”

Obviously it had been too much to hope for, that no one would guess his secret. Filch looked at Dumbledore miserably, sure that the Headmaster was somehow making fun of him or gloating over the fact that he had won and Filch had lost. Well, he supposed Dumbledore had every right to gloat. After all, he’d won Minerva—who wouldn’t gloat about that?

Dumbledore mistook Filch’s tortured silence as a wish for his secret to be kept. “Then...do I understand that you would like to oblige the Messrs. Weasley in going sooner, Argus? I shall be very sorry to lose you, but if your mind is made up—”

“I really think it would be for the best, Headmaster,” Filch broke in, eager to get Dumbledore out of his office. If the man stood there much longer, Headmaster or not, Filch was afraid he would be tempted to do or say something completely out of line. It seemed only fair that he be able to leave Hogwarts with his dignity intact, at least. “Shall we say tomorrow morning, eight o’clock? I’ll arrange with Hagrid for a carriage to be at the gates.”

Dumbledore looked a little bewildered by the speed with which everything was happening. “But Argus—no leaving party? I thought perhaps a convivial gathering tomorrow night, or—”

“Thank you, no,” Filch said tersely. That was all he needed—to be surrounded by the happy couple and their friends. Why, suppose it turned into a congratulatory party for them—a fine how de do! And Dumbledore was such a sly one, Filch could just see something like that happening.

“Yes—well—erm,” said Dumbledore. There really seemed to be nothing else to say. He opened the door. “I suppose this is not just good night, then, but goodbye.” He looked back at Filch. “Adieu, Argus. All the best to you.” He went out and closed the door softly, leaving Filch alone with Mrs. Norris.

“Well, come on, love,” Filch said. He seemed strangely energized all of a sudden, now that the decision was irrevocably made. “That’s that. We’d better get packing.”

The next morning Minerva approached the staff table, her steps more eager than they had been in some time. Dumbledore reached his chair just before she got there and glanced down casually, expecting to see an empty plate at her place. Then he did a double take. To his great surprise, not only was there a perfect, brilliant purple potted African violet sitting there—but there was yet another piece of parchment beside it!

Minerva squealed excitedly and pounced on the parchment. Dumbledore waited for her to open it, curious to see what Filch had left as a parting gift.

Minerva read the note to herself and then whipped a handkerchief out of her sleeve and dabbed at her eyes. Dumbledore could stand it no longer. He reached for the parchment tentatively. “May I read it?”

Minerva looked surprised but handed it over. “Really, Albus—as if you didn’t already know every word in it,” she said almost coyly. Since of course he didn’t know, he quickly scanned the spiky handwriting:

To Minerva, my dearest love:

Roses are red,

Violets are blue.

My heart will always

Belong to you.

Wherever you are,

Though parted we be,

Your joy is all

That matters to me.

This token will grow

Like my love so true;

For who would not thrive

When cared for by you?

I say it again,

O fair one of mine:

You are my dear love

To the ending of time.

Dumbledore snorted derisively. “What drivel!” he exclaimed, tossing the parchment onto the table.

Minerva looked a bit startled at first, then she laughed. “Oh, Albus, stop. I know it’s from you.” She ran a finger over the plant’s fuzzy leaves. “You remembered my favorite flower. Thank you, Albus.” Dumbledore muffled a sigh and put on an agreeable smile, but it must be admitted that he said nothing to dissuade her.

“So it was you all along,” Minerva mused. She looked up at him with laughter in her eyes. “I thought it might be, you know. But why make it such a secret, Albus? You know, I’d almost made up my mind it was...someone else. What if I’d asked him and he had confessed to being my admirer—you’d have been in a bit of a pickle, wouldn’t you?”

He looked at her, startled. “Someone else? And who did you have in mind, pray?”

Minerva wrinkled her nose and shook her head. “Oh, it was nothing—just a silly thought I had. Do let’s sit down, shall we? I’m simply starving this morning!”

Dumbledore politely pulled out her chair and waited for her to sit, then took his own seat. It was eight o’clock on the dot and, with a vague pang of regret, he thought of the carriage that was even now waiting at the gates.

Filch tossed the one bag he had finally packed into the carriage and held the door for Mrs. Norris to jump inside. He turned and looked a bit wistfully across the sparkling, dew-wet lawns to the venerable old castle that had been his home for so many years. For just a moment he was tempted to undo what he had done and stay. To Hades with Dumbledore—was Minerva’s love not worth fighting for?

Then, as quickly as it had come, the impulse was quelled and his practicality reasserted itself. He knew it was no use; as surely as he had given his heart, so, it appeared, had Minerva—and not to him. Filch fumed quietly. I wouldn’t put it past Dumbledore to claim my gifts as his own just to further his place in Minerva’s affections, he thought, completely unaware that he was maligning an innocent (mostly) man.

Strangely, the conversation with Dumbledore the night before had actually freed Filch in some way. Although it was with a bit of a wrench, he found himself letting go of the idea that he might have a chance with Minerva. He was not one to torture himself unnecessarily with thoughts of what might have been. It had been a game; the chance of discovery by Minerva had been titillating, and he truly had enjoyed seeing her pleasure in his gifts. But Filch was ever a pragmatist. He acknowledged that the game was over, and it appeared he had lost. There truly was no longer anything for him here—if there ever really had been.

But, he thought, London—well! One never knew what might happen in London. Certainly one never knew what might happen when one knocked about with the Weasley twins and the Jordan boy, those rascals. No, life wouldn’t be the same—but it could still be good. And he suspected it would never be boring.

He climbed into the carriage and fell back onto the seat as the unseen thestrals moved off in the direction of Hogsmeade and the Express. Mrs. Norris hopped across from the facing seat and climbed into his lap, and Filch stroked her lovingly. “Well, my love,” he said. “No more curfew patrols for us, eh? No more detentions.” He sounded a little depressed, and she bumped the top of her head against his chin, purring loudly. He laughed. “Right you are, lass. We’ll have the Weasleys to keep in order. That ought to keep us busy!” A sudden thought occurred to him, and he smiled wickedly. “Perhaps we’ll be able to sell some of those interesting gadgets of theirs to the Hogwarts students, you think? Give the new caretaker a bit of a run for his money.” He chuckled. His mischievous side had been hidden for long years and was doubtless a bit rusty. High time he took it out and polished it up a bit. After all, when in Rome....

Yes, things were definitely looking up.

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