Hogwarts, 24 August 1957
Coming down the final flight of steps to the front hall with Gertrude Gamp, the Arithmancy mistress, and Blampa, her Hogwarts house-elf, Minerva was surprised to see the number of people milling about. It seemed that most of the staff had returned for the event, and a few had brought guests, apparently, as there were witches and wizards there whom she didn’t recognise or whom she only knew by sight. Minerva began to turn to say something to Gertrude when the front door opened and, with a gust of wind, Malcolm entered, looking bright-eyed and pink-cheeked, wearing a blousy white shirt with his favourite kilt and sporran, a plaid cast over one shoulder and held in place with a decorative pin in the shape of a raven with a snake coiled about its legs. The snake was looking out and the raven’s mouth was open as it bent its head toward the snake. It was a peculiar emblem, but no more than the one of the flaming maw he used on his stationery, Minerva supposed.
Malcolm caught sight of them and waved, bounding toward them, and the small crowd parted to make way for him. Minerva smiled. Her brother was a fine sight, and a feeling of pride in him surged through her. As eccentric as he was, Malcolm was strong, truthful, generous-spirited, and he exuded both magical and physical energy.
“Little sister!” His eyes sparkled as he gripped her arm in a friendly fashion. He turned a grin on Gertrude. “And Professor Gamp of Hogwarts! Wonderful to see you both! Now, where is my worthy opponent, or whatever one might call him? Partner-in-mischief, perhaps!”
“He said we are to meet him out in front of the castle,” Gertrude said.
“Right! Then back out, I suppose!” Malcolm said energetically, turning and striding toward the front doors again. In a show for the assemblage, he opened it with a casual wave of his hand, and Minerva choked back a chuckle.
“Perhaps I should have worn my matching tartan,” Minerva said to Gertrude, moving to place Blampa between them so she wouldn’t get trampled on by the larger people moving around them. “I chose this tartan this morning not thinking about it very much. But I suppose it might be better not to appear to be taking sides. Not that I am able to,” Minerva added. “I just want both to come out of this with no real injuries and Malcolm with his pride intact.”
Gertrude nodded in agreement. She had put her hand on Blampa’s other shoulder. Now that they had gone out to the front steps, Minerva saw that there were another dozen spectators outside. Malcolm hadn’t waited for them, but was standing out in front of the crowd, apparently oblivious to it, and talking to the Herbology teacher, Johannes Brinbaum, who was smiling cheerfully.
Just as Gertrude was about to say something in reply, they were both distracted by Hagrid’s arrival with a few more guests, including one whom Minerva recognised, clad in the same six-colour tartan as Malcolm. The short, straight-backed witch marched directly up to Malcolm. Johannes stopped speaking in mid-sentence, and Malcolm immediately turned and pecked the witch’s cheek.
The witch seemed to brush off Malcolm’s gesture, but her eyes were smiling as she looked up at him, one hand firmly grasping each of the younger wizard’s elbows.
“So, you will do us all proud today, lad?”
“Aye, Grandmother, that I will,” Malcolm replied. There was no “trying” with Grandmother Siofre. One either did or one didn’t. It was expected that a Tyree or a McGonagall would always put forth a full effort.
“Now, where is the granddaughter?” Siofre asked, turning to look at the group of people who had returned to their milling about.
“Here I am, Grandmother,” Minerva said from her other side.
Siofre looked up at Minerva and a smile played at the corners of her mouth. “Malcolm tells me that you are not turned stodgy yet, Minerva!”
Minerva smiled in return. “I should hope not!”
“Yes, well, you always were an old one, child,” Siofre said, addressing her remark to Minerva, but glancing over at Gertrude and then down at Blampa, who still stood between the two witches and who had taken hold of Minerva’s skirts.
“Grandmother, I would like you to meet a colleague and friend, Professor Gertrude Gamp, and this is Blampa,” Minerva said, gesturing toward the nervous house-elf. “Gertrude, I would like to present my grandmother, Siofre Tyree.”
Gertrude nodded respectfully. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Madam Tyree.”
“Hmm, aye, you were at my great-granddaughter’s wedding, weren’t you?” Siofre responded. “No time for pleasantries. Must speak with the grandson.” She nodded briskly. “I will see you later, no doubt, Minerva.”
With that, Siofre turned back to Malcolm. Hagrid was just holding out Malcolm’s broom to him.
“Yeh’ll be needin’ this, maybe,” Hagrid said.
“Could you hold onto it for me just a bit longer, Hagrid?” Malcolm barely got the words out of his mouth when his diminutive grandmother had him by the elbow and was steering him away from the crowd.
“It’s nine o’clock,” Minerva said as she watched her grandmother speaking with Malcolm. The older witch was gesturing with both hands, appearing to simultaneously tug and push at some imaginary object in front of her. “Albus is late.”
Gertrude looked up. “No, on time.”
Minerva raised her eyes in the direction that Gertrude was looking. It was a sight Minerva had never before encountered: Albus Dumbledore on a broom. Her friend Quin had mentioned that Albus had once played Chaser in a pick-up Quidditch game, but in all the years that Minerva had known him, she had never seen him on a broom. But considering that he was such a strong Apparater and his Animagus form was a phoenix, it seemed hardly a mode of conveyance that he would normally choose.
Albus apparently had taken off from one of his tower windows. With no flourish, but still lightly and gracefully, Albus glided down and landed beside Malcolm and Siofre. Albus looked handsome, Minerva thought, in robes of deep gold with burgundy trim, the collar of the longer dark red under-robe peeking out, and its hem visible at his ankles.
Minerva hadn’t been able to hear much of what Siofre had been saying to Malcolm, other than a few random words, such as “two-handed” and “small surprise,” but now she heard her grandmother greet the Headmaster.
“Albus, good morning! You are the wizard who is making my grandson a respectable working wizard, then,” Siofre said, a glint of humour in her eyes. She had always been proud of Malcolm and had not completely shared Egeria’s concerns about his peripatetic ways, but she enjoyed teasing as much as her son did—although it was occasionally difficult to distinguish her teasing, and she had upset more than one of Minerva’s sensitive Parnovon relatives with an ill-received jibe.
Albus bent and gave the witch a light kiss on her cheek. “We shall see, Siofre,” he said with a smile. “We have to see if he lives up to his advertising, after all!”
It was peculiar for Minerva to see Albus interacting with her Grandmother Siofre. She had always known that the two had been at Hogwarts at the same time, her grandmother just a few years behind him, and Albus had mentioned to her that when he had gone to see Siofre after Collum died, she had sent him off with a flea in his ear, more or less, but he hadn’t held it against her.
“Time was, I wasn’t sure of your own respectability, Albus, and now I’m trusting my grandson to you to make him a more upstanding wizard,” Siofre said, her eyes sparkling.
Minerva could feel Gertrude shift beside her, seeming to tense up. She could imagine that Gertrude wasn’t entirely aware that Siofre was teasing, or was, but still found it offensive. Whether she was offended on behalf of Albus or Malcolm, though, Minerva was unsure. She herself found the remarks in somewhat questionable taste, but Albus only laughed good-naturedly and Malcolm was grinning.
“So, ready for our spree, then, Albus?” Malcolm said. Minerva could almost feel her brother’s excitement, like the quivering of a dog on the scent of something wonderfully exciting.
“Ah, not yet, my b– , er, Malcolm,” Albus said, catching himself from addressing Malcolm in a way the other wizard disliked. “First, we will have a bit of a display from you, if that is agreeable.”
“Ah, this wizard wants me to be tired out before we even begin, Grandmother,” Malcolm said with a laugh.
“You may be in no condition after our ‘spree’ to do anything else,” Albus said with a playful smile, “so I thought it most fair to do this first. We can have a tea break before we begin.”
“So I’ll have to take a pee in the middle of it?” Malcolm asked.
Siofre laughed, but slapped his arm. “Speak better to your elders and in mixed company, laddie!”
“Aye, ma’am, sorry,” Malcolm said, but he didn’t look at all apologetic.
“First, I will make the announcement to our assembled guests,” Albus said, seeming only then to take notice of the group behind him. He turned and smiled brightly at Minerva, then he looked at the group. Raising his voice, he said, “The first event on our schedule will take place from here. If you would all like to make yourselves comfortable, I will explain the first display of our candidate’s talents.”
Witches and wizards conjured chairs and stools of various descriptions and settled down. Minerva and Gertrude simply moved to one side but didn’t sit.
“Johannes? Professor Birnbaum?” Albus looked around, seeking the Herbology master and Head of Ravenclaw.
At Siofre Tyree’s arrival, Johannes had retreated to the back of the crowd, but now he stepped forward.
“I am here, Professor!”
“Good, my boy! May I speak with you briefly?”
The two wizards conferred, and Minerva saw Albus make a slight gesture. Johannes smiled and nodded, then stepped back to stand beside Gertrude and Minerva.
“He passed me the wards,” Johannes explained in a whisper as Albus now spoke in a low voice with Malcolm.
Malcolm turned, waved, and caught Hagrid’s eye. “My broom, Hagrid.”
Albus turned back to the group. “Malcolm is first going to display Apparition-by-Broom. In order to verify the Disapparition and the corresponding Apparition, I shall proceed to the Apparition point and Professor Filius Flitwick will observe from his position at the gates. You may watch from here, or, if you like, you may walk down toward the gates.”
Siofre stepped forward and spoke softly to Albus. Albus’s face twitched as if he were restraining a smile, but he nodded, and Siofre walked away quickly down toward the gates. Albus turned back to Malcolm, said a few words, then he mounted his own broom.
Albus flew down to the gates, landed, and spoke with Filius, whose small form Minerva could now see. There was a soft sound of Disapparition and Albus vanished, apparently Apparating to wherever Malcolm was due to arrive.
Malcolm walked over to Gertrude and Minerva. “I’m going to wait for Grandmother Siofre. She insisted on witnessing from the other end, so I can’t leave until she has Disapparated. She turned down Albus’s offer of a ride,” he said with a small grin. Siofre was just reaching the gates at that moment, and he climbed onto his broom and rose a few feet above their heads.
“Wait, Malcolm—where are you going?” Minerva asked, worried about her brother Splinching in some odd location.
Malcolm’s grin grew. “Why, off to home, of course! I could Apparate there in my sleep, after all!”
Malcolm waved cheerfully at the crowd of onlookers, some of whom had began to wander toward the gates. The murmuring that had begun when Albus had announced that Malcolm was going to demonstrate Apparition-by-Broom, now died down to a hush as everyone watched Malcolm rise lazily into the air, seemingly lifted straight up as if by a string.
“He is always the show-off,” Minerva muttered. Although it looked simple, most people couldn’t rise straight up on a broom without some forward motion as well. At least he wasn’t doing the hair-raising manoeuvres she had seen him performing a few days earlier. Minerva hoped he actually could achieve what he had claimed.
Gertrude pulled a pair of Omnioculars from her pocket, and Minerva wished she had thought of such a thing.
At a relatively low altitude of about fifty feet, probably to make it easier for the observers to see him, Malcolm flew toward the edge of the Hogwarts grounds, away from the Antiapparition wards. He picked up speed as he approached the border, and seconds after passing over the walls, there was a thundering crack, and Malcolm vanished entirely. The crowd was completely silent for a moment, then a few of the younger wizards began to cheer and others joined in. Minerva and Gertrude, though, waited nervously for his return.
Minutes ticked by and the guests began to grow restless. Minerva turned to Gertrude.
“What do you suppose is taking so long?” she asked, trying to keep her concern from her voice.
Gertrude shook her head. “I suppose they are talking. It hasn’t been very long. He didn’t Splinch. I watched carefully.”
“What if he didn’t arrive in the right place?” Minerva asked. She hadn’t heard of such a thing before—one either Disapparated successfully or didn’t—but Apparition-by-Broom might be something quite different, since one was in motion when Disapparating. One of the first rules she had learned when she took her Apparition lessons—other than the three D’s—was that one had to be standing stock-still in order to Disapparate, and that Splinching was a great danger otherwise.
Gertrude was mulling her response to that question when the sharp sound of Apparition came from the gate area. From the person’s height, Minerva assumed it was her grandmother. She paused to speak with Flitwick, then started walking up toward the castle. Minerva wanted to meet her halfway, but restrained herself. Siofre didn’t appear concerned, and it had been less than five minutes since Malcolm had Disapparated, though it felt much longer.
Siofre paused in front of the crowd, which went silent. The witch did not raise her voice at all, but her words were clear, a richly rolling burr embellishing them.
“Professor Dumbledore will make an official announcement when he returns, but I witnessed Malcolm’s safe arrival at the Apparition point. They are conferring about the next stage of events at the moment.” Siofre turned and strode over to where Minerva and Gertrude stood with Johannes. Blampa was almost hidden behind Minerva’s skirts.
“He did well, but ’twas only the one small task,” Siofre said with a nod.
Minerva was about to ask whether either of the other witches knew what the next task would be, but there were two almost simultaneous cracks from an area beyond the gates, and both wizards, mounted on their brooms, appeared, speeding towards the Hogwarts grounds.
Gertrude shook her head. “Your brother is not the only one to show off this morning, I see. I wonder if Albus ever even did that before today.”
“I never even saw him on a broom before,” Minerva said, her brow furrowed. “That seems terribly foolhardy.”
“He’s a Gryffindor—surely you can understand a fellow Gryffindor,” Gertrude said to Minerva.
“Hmmph,” Siofre said. “He was always a bit brash as a boy. They never really do grow up, do they?”
Johannes laughed as the three witches all agreed that every wizard still had a little boy in him. Siofre looked up at the tall, sandy-haired wizard.
“Don’t know you. You’re foreign, aren’t you?” The words were blunt, but her tone friendly.
“I am from Germany, ma’am,” Johannes said in his friendly manner. “Johannes Birnbaum, at your service.”
“Ah, the Herbology wizard. Ravenclaw Head of House, aren’t you? Heard good things about you. Siofre Tyree, Ravenclaw myself,” she said, holding out her hand, which Johannes took and bent over in a formal bow.
As Johannes straightened, Minerva apologised. “I am sorry, Grandmother. I hadn’t realised that you two hadn’t met.”
Siofre waved off the apology as everyone’s attention turned to the two wizards who had landed several yards away and who were now walking around toward the back of the castle. Hagrid’s voice rang out above the renewed chatter.
“Everybody to th’ Quidditch stadium! All onlookers t’ stadium now!”
As the crowd began to flow in the direction that Albus and Malcolm had taken, Johannes said that he would wait for Professor Flitwick to catch up with everyone.
“I have a spot reserved for us,” Gertrude said. “We should have a good view.”
“I wish I had thought to bring binoculars or Omnioculars,” Minerva said with a sigh. She felt a tugging on her skirts.
“Blampa can fetch Ominiominionoculars for Professor Minerva,” the little house-elf squeaked shyly.
Minerva smiled. “All right. Thank you, Blampa. If you can’t find any Omnioculars quickly, though, just return to me. They aren’t crucial.”
Blampa nodded and Disapparated with a clearly audible pop as the three witches began to walk toward the Quidditch stadium.
“Do you know what is up next?” Minerva asked Gertrude.
Gertrude nodded. The older witch suddenly seemed to go pale.
“Are you going to tell us, lass?” Siofre asked.
Gertrude looked across at the white-haired witch. “Have you read Malcolm’s letter of application?”
Siofre barked a laugh. “I certainly did.”
“He mentioned certain creatures. Albus took him at his word,” Gertrude responded. “I believe him, as well,” she added hastily, “but acting in an emergency is one thing, this, however . . .”
“Not a Nundu?!” Minerva asked in alarm. They would have a stadium full of dead witches and wizards, in that case.
“No, no, of course not,” Gertrude said with a shake of her head.
“A . . . a Boggart?” Minerva asked tentatively. They could be disturbing, she supposed, if one was unprepared.
“A dragon,” Siofre said in a flat voice.
“Yes, a dragon,” Gertrude responded.
“What?” Minerva was astounded.
“Malcolm said he could ride a dragon,” Siofre said. “I have no doubt that he has, but as you say, Professor, doing so in an emergency is something quite different.”
Minerva felt a momentary surge of anger at Albus. He had assured her that Malcolm would be in no danger. But she had been worried about the duel. She had assumed that Albus would have a few tricky but not-particularly-dangerous tasks to test his other skills. Pixies, perhaps, or a stinky, bad-tempered buggane. It never occurred to her that Albus would procure a dragon.
“Whatever was Albus thinking?” Minerva asked.
“I don’t know as Albus necessarily expects Malcolm to ride it,” Gertrude said. “I wasn’t even aware that he had this planned until yesterday evening when Wilhelmina arrived with it and informed me that it was on the grounds. And Malcolm . . . perhaps I ought to have told him, but he had gone home to his flat already.”
“Lovely. Just . . . lovely. Have they other handlers, or is it only Wilhelmina?” Minerva asked. She should have noticed that Wilhelmina was nowhere to be seen.
“There’s another wizard from the preserve, and Kettleburn is with them, as well. Wilhelmina says it’s just a small Welsh Green, but they are very territorial, and the dragon’s not pleased to have been suddenly uprooted from its home,” Gertrude said as they entered the Quidditch stadium. Minerva noticed a large white marquee set up at one end of the pitch, presumably the dragon’s temporary shelter.
“Never fear, hen!” Siofre said, touching her granddaughter’s elbow lightly. “I am sure Albus has it all under control. And Malcolm has more talent than you give him credit for. The lad might be a wee bit headstrong, but he’s no fool.”
The two witches followed Gertrude as she led them up to the box where the scorekeeper and announcer usually sat during Quidditch games. As they arranged themselves and Minerva pulled her cloak closer about her, less from chilliness than from a sense of unease, Blampa reappeared with an ear-splitting pop.
Blampa held up a set of matte black Omnioculars. “Blampa gets Professor Minerva ominiominionoculars.”
“Thank you, Blampa,” Minerva said, accepting the Charmed binoculars. “Come, sit here. We saved you a seat.” She patted the space between her and Gertrude.
Blampa looked down and shook her head. “Blampa stands. Blampa happy house-elf.”
“Blampa, if you would prefer to stand, that is fine, but I would like it if you sat next to me. I asked you to come to help keep me company, after all,” Minerva said, somewhat bothered by the return of the cringing house-elf.
Blampa looked shyly over at the petite-but-imposing figure of Siofre Tyree, who was fiddling with her own small Omnioculars, more like opera glasses than the large set of Charmed field glasses that Minerva held. The white-haired witch noticed the house-elf looking at her.
“If my granddaughter wishes to have you sit beside her, I have nothing to say against it, child,” Siofre said, speaking more gently than she had all morning, then returning to her adjustments to her Omnioculars.
Blampa hopped up on the seat and sat quietly between the two teachers, taking hold of Minerva’s robes again. Albus, Filius, and Johannes joined them a few moments later.
The crowd grew quiet as Hagrid stepped out into the stadium.
“We ask yer cooperation. For this task, yer quiet is requested.” Hagrid looked around as if checking to be sure everyone had heard him. “Thank you.”
Hagrid disappeared back under the stands, and a moment later, the hush was momentarily broken with an excited whispering as the large white tent disappeared to reveal a Welsh Green Dragon. Whatever Wilhelmina may have said about it being a small dragon, it certainly seemed large to Minerva, at least fifteen feet long, perhaps a bit more. Minerva couldn’t see Wilhelmina or Kettleburn, or anyone else, down with the dragon, but she assumed they were close at hand. Dragons couldn’t be tamed, but they could be handled, and Minerva hoped that the handlers were nearby in case Malcolm had trouble.
The Welsh Green had been loosely staked by only one leg. Minerva presumed that the dragon could break free quite easily, and she regretted not having her wand at hand—not that she had any notion what kind of spell could stop a rampaging dragon.
The dragon was looking around, seeming to judge the crowd of people. Gertrude leaned toward Minerva.
“It can’t see us,” she whispered. “Wilhelmina explained that they put a charm on the stands. It thinks it is in a large, roofless paddock. And it was well-fed this morning.”
Minerva turned to her grandmother and repeated that bit of information, and she could feel Siofre relax her grip on the wand in the pocket of her tartan robes.
As the nervous crowd looked on, only occasional whispers passing among them, Malcolm walked out onto the pitch—barefoot and his wand held loosely in his right hand. Every book Minerva had read had said to approach a dragon from the rear, but Malcolm walked toward it head on, slowly but steadily, until he stopped about thirty feet from it. The dragon opened its mouth and seemed to sniff the air, then it rose up from its crouch, a rumble beginning somewhere deep in its throat. In the hush, Malcolm’s voice rang clearly in the stadium, though he spoke softly.
“Hullo, young lassie.” He cocked his head. “Don’t think you’ll be needing that, now.” Malcolm waved his left hand and the chain and shackle vanished.
The confused dragon shook her leg. Her tail switched back and forth. She lowered her head and another grumble emerged from her partially open mouth.
“You aren’t going to like this much better, but I will beg your pardon in advance,” Malcolm said as he began to walk again, this time describing an arc, moving around to her side.
This seemed to confuse the dragon, and she turned with him, this time her mouth opened wider, and she let out a harsh roar. Malcolm didn’t twitch a hair, but continued walking in a circle around her as she turned with him. Minerva became even more alarmed when the dragon unfurled her wings, but through her Omnioculars, she could see the corners of Malcolm’s mouth turn up and his eyes smile.
“Ready for a bit of exercise? So am I!” Malcolm had gradually come closer to the dragon as he had circled her and she turned with him.
Very suddenly, Malcolm took several long, swift strides, then he bent and leapt, seeming almost to fly through the air. One of his bare feet briefly touched the dragon’s bent foreleg, and then, impossibly, he was astride her long neck, his legs holding tightly, his left hand gripping the scaly, loose folds of flesh near her head. He quickly shoved his wand into a Charmed loop on one side of his sporran, then grabbed on with his other hand.
The dragon had gone from confused to annoyed to enraged very quickly. She threw her head back, but Malcolm stayed well-mounted, and Minerva saw him grin with glee. Rearing up, the dragon tried to dislodge her unwanted companion, but Malcolm simply held on and laughed. She raised her foreleg and batted, but was unable to reach him. The angry beast spat fire then, and did a peculiar skip across the pitch, which would have been amusing if the onlookers weren’t all rivetted in varying degrees of awe and fear.
Minerva glanced over at Albus. He appeared the picture of calm, but Minerva could see that he was paler than usual, and his wand was in his hand. She wondered if he were regretting this as one of his harebrained ideas, but she turned her attention back to the pitch just in time to see the dragon drop to the ground.
“Oh, my gods, it’s going to roll!” someone cried.
Indeed, it appeared that was what the lumbering beast was about to do, and she began to turn onto her side, but then Malcolm leaned forward and bit her ear. This caused her to forget her roll, but now she shook her head violently, and for a moment, Minerva feared that Malcolm would be tossed off, instead, the dragon suddenly stood and stretched, almost like a cat. Minerva heard Gertrude and a number of others in the audience gasp at that, alarmed, but Malcolm laughed again. Apparently that stretch indicated the creature was about to take wing, for the dragon breathed out one more fiery blast then leapt into the air, her wings flapping steadily, creating a perceptible breeze in the stadium.
It seemed that all at once, everyone stood, craning their necks as they watched the dragon climb higher and higher, the wizard on her back lying flat now against his peculiar mount. Minerva could see three figures on brooms—Wilhelmina, Kettleburn, and the other dragon-handler, presumably. She didn’t know what kind of control, if any, Malcolm had over the dragon’s flight, but the dragon seemed happier now that she was in the air, and she circled and swooped, seemingly unconcerned about ridding herself of her passenger. Minerva followed them through her Omnioculars, and she could see that Malcolm was speaking to the beast and seemed to be scratching her neck and behind her ears with his left hand as he still held tight with his right.
Minerva couldn’t imagine how this could end. She had no real familiarity with dragons, but she believed that the spells that dragon-handlers normally used to herd the beasts would likely not be safe to use with a wizard riding her. She looked over at Albus. He looked no more nervous than he had, Minerva thought, and he had sat back down and placed his own Omnioculars in his lap, presumably so that he could see all four flyers at once.
There was a sudden flash of fire, and at first, Minerva thought that the dragon had spewed flames again, but it was Fawkes, and as the two wizards and Wilhelmina rode in formation behind and to the sides of the dragon, trying to control the dragon’s path—but without very much success—the phoenix flew down close to the dragon’s head. Minerva raised her Omnioculars again just in time to see Malcolm turn toward the phoenix and laugh. Fawkes worried the dragon first from one side then the other, occasionally disappearing then reappearing above or to the other side of the dragon. It seemed to Minerva that the phoenix was also trying to get Malcolm’s attention, but Malcolm persisted in holding on to the dragon, and it seemed to Minerva that her brother was going to ride the dragon until she decided to land.
Finally, Malcolm patted the side of the dragon’s neck, reached out, grabbed hold of Fawkes’s tail feathers, and let go of the dragon. Fawkes flew down to the Quidditch pitch, deposited his passenger, trilled briefly, then disappeared in a flash of flame.
Malcolm tottered a bit as he regained his footing, then he looked over at Gertrude and waved, grinning. The crowd broke into a roar of applause and cheers. With no false modesty, Malcolm waved at everyone and trotted off the pitch.
Albus stood and waited for the spectators to calm down, then he announced, “There will be tea and biscuits served on the lawn in ten minutes. We will reconvene in one hour. I ask that everyone leave the stadium to allow the dragon-handlers to do their work.”
Minerva was torn between her desire to stop Albus and ask him what he had been thinking and her desire to find her brother. The latter desire won out, and she followed Gertrude down out of the stands, little Blampa still holding her skirts. Siofre came with them, and they found Malcolm in the Gryffindor changing room, pulling on his dragonhide boots. He looked up and smiled when he saw them.
“Are you all right?” Gertrude asked immediately, sitting down beside him and pushing aside a curly lock of hair that had fallen across his forehead.
Siofre observed this gesture and raised an eyebrow, but said nothing.
“Aye, I am fine, Trudie,” Malcolm said with a soft smile. “It was fun.”
“But what a thing for Albus to have had you do!” Minerva cried. “You could have been hurt—any of the spectators could have been, in fact!”
“Oh, he gave me the option. This or something else. But it’s a rare opportunity, so I jumped at it,” Malcolm said with a grin.
“Well, laddie, you have done well, but you still have the rest of the morning ahead of you,” Siofre said. “Time for us all to get some tea. And you should have something better than biscuits.” She looked down at Blampa, who was hiding shyly behind Minerva. “You, there—Blampa, is it? Could you fetch some sandwiches for the grandson here?”
Blampa nodded eagerly, and looked up at Minerva for her permission.
“That’s a good idea, Blampa. Fetch some sandwiches and rejoin us on the lawn,” Minerva said.
Ten minutes later, they were sitting together under a large umbrella unwrapping the sandwiches Blampa had just brought them. Minerva wasn’t at all hungry, but she took one anyway. Albus was heading toward them, stopping briefly to speak with a few of the other teachers at another table. When he reached them, he smiled down genially.
“Ah, sandwiches! An excellent idea. Do you mind if I join you?” Albus asked.
“Not at all, boss,” Malcolm said with a cheeky grin, then, before Albus could do it, Malcolm had conjured him a pouffy armchair, covered in a gaudy print with animated pink flamingos peeking out from behind bright tropical flowers.
Albus laughed. “Is this an attempt to persuade me to cancel the rest of the morning? If so, my—er, Malcolm, you have very nearly succeeded,” he said, sitting down in the chair and reaching for a sandwich.
“That would disappoint me greatly, boss. And what I said before, the other day, about ‘my boy’? Never mind that. I’ll get used to it if you get used to my calling you ‘boss’!” Malcolm said with a wink.
“We shall see, my boy!”
“Albus . . . that was quite a surprise,” Minerva said, changing the subject.
“I do enjoy surprising people, as you know,” Albus said as he poured himself a cup of tea.
“This was not one of your more pleasant surprises, I have to say,” Minerva replied sternly.
“Your brother coped very well,” Albus said. “And the handlers were there. There was no real danger, my dear.”
“When there is a dragon involved, Albus, there is always danger,” Gertrude said, sounding no less stern than Minerva had.
“Sufficient unto the day, sufficient unto the day,” Siofre quoted admonishingly. “And now Malcolm has to face the rest of the morning. There is little point in saying anything more on that matter.” She looked over at her oldest grandchild. “You did very well, however.”
Forty-five minutes later, everyone was back in the stadium watching as Malcolm removed a curse from a box and opened it. It was rather dull, as he was completely successful and nothing happened when he removed the lid from the box; he only pulled a plush stuffed dragon from its depths. Interest was piqued again, however, when Albus walked out onto the pitch with Flitwick. After Flitwick had conferred briefly with both wizards, he left the field and climbed up to the box where Minerva and Gertrude sat.
The new Charms teacher pointed his wand at his throat and announced, “The duel will proceed under modified sporting rules. It will last twenty minutes or until one or the other of the players is unable to continue. Gentlemen, whenever you are ready, you may begin.”
After removing the Sonorus Charm, Flitwick drew a quill and some parchment from his pocket. It was evidently some kind of automagical quill like the one he had used to record the committee meetings, and he began muttering under his breath, watching the quill. Apparently satisfied that it was functioning correctly, he nodded and fell silent, waiting.
Albus and Malcolm were facing one another, just chatting, it seemed, then they turned and casually walked apart. They both stopped at about the same time and turned back. Malcolm smiled briefly and nodded, drawing his wand, then Albus raised his. At Albus’s nod, Malcolm let off a quick spell, which Minerva thought was a Stinging Hex, but they were both casting nonverbally, so she couldn’t be certain. Albus deflected it easily and quickly cast a Stunner followed by a Confundus, forcing Malcolm to deflect two very different spells rapidly without being able to get off a spell of his own.
Albus was just about to cast another minor hex as Malcolm was countering the Confundus, when Malcolm cast wandlessly with his left hand, only slightly after he had deflected the hex with the spell cast from his wand. Albus looked slightly surprised, but not displeased, and cast another spell. Minerva could feel his magic rippling this time, so whatever he had cast, he had done so with greater force than he had the previous spells, but Malcolm slashed his wand through the air and his spell met Albus’s midway, creating a colourful explosion, much as he had done with Minerva’s spell when they had practised together. Unlike Minerva, however, Albus was undistracted by the display of pyrotechnics, and simply deflected the next spell that Malcolm cast.
The two wizards began to cast more rapidly, too rapidly for most onlookers to be able to determine what spells were cast, but they still occasionally blazed, glowed, or exploded, providing some entertainment. Minerva couldn’t imagine how the two could continue to cast so rapidly and not seem fatigued. Malcolm had begun to move about as he cast, trying to tire the older wizard physically, perhaps, but Albus allowed him to move and stayed in one spot himself, merely turning to follow his opponent. One of Albus’s spells reached Malcolm as he was too slow in casting a defensive spell, and although he leapt out of the way, it hit his right shoulder. Minerva couldn’t tell whether it had hurt or not, but Malcolm responded by slashing with his left hand as he thrust with his wand in his right hand; a wind came up, and conjured orange dust swirled around Albus, who banished it easily. Malcolm took that moment to cast a blasting charm at Albus, who had time only to throw up a very general shield, and the charm caused a boom when it hit the shield and the reverberations seemed to rock Albus. Just as Albus was regaining his feet and was about to cast another spell, Malcolm thrust his left fist into the air and the stadium was suddenly filled with the sound of a hundred bagpipes wailing and dozens of drums beating, and the spectators all covered their ears.
Albus was momentarily startled by the sudden, intense martial music, and Malcolm took the opening to cast two-handed again, slapping his left palm downward while flicking up very quickly with his wand. The turf rose up and rippled out toward Albus, like a giant carpet being shaken out. It lifted Albus up off of his feet, and he landed on his back, hard. As Albus rolled over and pushed himself back up, Malcolm cast again, rather appalling Minerva and her sense of fair play, but this spell was again not cast on Albus himself, but on the pitch, and there was a sudden thick field of sunflowers surrounding Albus.
Minerva could just make out Albus’s grey head as he stood, then the music stopped, the field of flowers vanished, and Albus smiled at Malcolm, who was now breathing hard. Malcolm raised his wand to cast, but his spell was easily side-stepped by Albus, who cast an offensive spell at Malcolm. Minerva giggled. Malcolm had not been able to move out of the way, and his shield spell had been completely ineffective, the purple-rayed spell just passing right through it. Malcolm was now completely covered in long auburn fur, so much fur that he couldn’t see. Albus cast another spell, but Malcolm managed to twist out of the way, despite his momentary blindness, and that one didn’t strike. Minerva recognised it as another Transfiguration spell, one that she had developed during the last months of the war but that had never been used, due to its difficulty. She was a little disappointed. She would have enjoyed seeing Malcolm with dolphin flippers and long auburn fur.
Malcolm managed to rid himself of the fur, all the while dancing about trying, by feel only, to avoid Albus’s lazily cast hexes. Now that Malcolm was unencumbered, the two wizards cast furiously fast again, Malcolm seeming to be running entirely on adrenalin and Albus looking no more huffed than if he had climbed a few flights of stairs, which was not at all. Still, Malcolm more than held his own, and one of his slicing hexes made it through and opened a long but shallow cut on Albus’s forehead. Minerva was impressed. Despite the obvious frenzy with which Malcolm was casting, he had sufficient control to keep from creating a bigger wound, and she remembered her own spell, which had been meant simply to raise a slight welt on her brother's cheek, but which had done much worse.
Albus wiped the dripping blood from his eyes with the sleeve of his golden robe, and cast a blaster, aiming at Malcolm’s feet. It almost toppled him, but though there was now a large crater in the pitch, Malcolm had merely leapt backwards and landed steady on his feet, casting a fireball hex as he came down. Oddly, Albus laughed as the ball of fire approached him, growing as it flew. Malcolm’s eyes widened when he realised that Albus was neither stepping aside nor countering it, and he raised his wand to try to stop it himself, but too late, and the ball of fire hit Albus mid-chest, exploding on contact. Malcolm ran towards Albus, but the older wizard was engulfed in flame and vanished in a bright flash. Malcolm stood stock-still for a moment, his face completely drained of colour, then he sank to his knees as the rest of the spectators rose to their feet in horror. It happened so quickly that Minerva had barely comprehended it before relief swept over her.
Malcolm put a hand on the singed turf, blinking at it in dismay, when he felt a tap on his shoulder. A confused expression crossed his face as he turned his head. He just had time to see Albus smiling down at him, the sun a halo shining behind his head, when the older wizard flicked two fingers, and Malcolm tilted to one side, slowly crumpling to the scorched grass, Stunned.