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Gravel on the Ground: From the Ashes by 1917farmgirl
Chapter 4 : Chapter 3
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 21


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Chapter 3

“You’re very quiet tonight, Minerva,” Albus said suddenly, returning his cup of tea to the saucer with a tiny click and setting them both on the table next to his armchair. “You haven’t even complained about Argus rearranging the suits of armor again.”

“The suits of armor will simply migrate back to their preferred corridors in the night,” she answered, setting aside her own cup with a shake of her head. After a friendship that spanned more than half a century, the two had learned to often enjoy a companionable silence during their habit of taking a late-night cup of tea together once a week. But it also meant that Albus knew the difference between when she was thinking contentedly and when she was stewing.

“You’re worried about Sadie,” he said quietly, leaning back into the chair.

“Aren’t you?” she snapped then dropped her head slightly in contrition. Albus didn’t deserve her frustration, but her friend showed no reaction to her moment of weakness.

“Yes, but I also believe the girl has more in her than meets the eye. She will surprise us.”

Minerva looked up, pondering his response and the deep feelings it stirred in her, but somehow she managed to hold them at bay behind a wall of practicality. “Her academics are all over the place, though,” she went on, aware Albus had broached the subject because he knew she needed to talk about it but purposefully retreating to the safety of unemotional curriculum. She settled back in her own chair and reached for the small pile of parchment on the table, drawing it to her and putting on her glasses. “The exams show a study of contradictions.  Potions – surprisingly excellent, and her understanding of Herbology and magical creatures approximates that of others her age, but her wand work, however, is completely subpar. In fact, she almost seems to have a fear of wands or at the very least a deep distrust…” Minerva shook her head, aware of the implications of her words as she again forced her rising sentimentality into submission.

Best to stick to the dry facts.

“I seriously considered putting her with the first years for History of Magic, but Binns is so indomitably boring most of her classmates wouldn’t do any better if I administered the same test,” she finished with a small scoff, unable to hide her distaste.

Albus gave a chuckle. “His teaching has always lacked a certain…life to it, hasn’t it.” His eyes twinkled with repressed mirth.

Minerva fought the urge to groan at yet another of his bad jokes and continued with her notes. “Beyond her magical training, however, I’m also concerned about her basic education. Her reading skills are exemplary and her writing fine, if you can discount the handwriting, but her grasp of advanced mathematics beyond the concepts of fractions and measurements is pitiful. She will need remedial aid in that area as well as her magical studies.” Minerva sighed, her worry building despite her efforts to contain it.

“Given a willing pupil and an excellent teacher, educational shortcomings can easily be remedied, and I’m certain in this situation we have both,” her friend said with a gentle smile. “Minerva, this list of academic concerns isn’t what’s really bothering you. You’re using it to avoid your feelings again.”

Minerva sighed and lowered the parchment to her lap as she pulled off her glasses, looking across the small sitting room to her friend. Sometimes she almost hated that he knew her so well. And what was worse, this time he was right. She was such a mess of tangled emotions at the moment that she simply had to maintain her detached air as a survival tactic.

“It’s Poppy’s examination,” she said quietly, conceding the battle and finally allowing an angry frown to tug at the corners of her mouth. “The malnutrition, the marks, the way they crippled her and put that...that thing on her!” Her voice grew louder as she spoke until she caught and reined herself back in. “So much damage done, and we don’t even know how or why… You didn’t see her in New York, Albus, huddled in that corner, full of fear and distrust. How can we in good conscience set her adrift in this madhouse in less than two weeks when she still has so much healing to work her way through?”

“Have you considered that perhaps this madhouse as you called our fine school is exactly what she needs to start that healing? And who better to help her begin that recovery than Arthur, Molly, and the children? You know she’ll never want for love again – or food for that matter – once Molly gets her hands on her. And I predict that the Weasley children and Harry will have her sneaking around, breaking rules and getting detentions in no time.”

In spite of the seriousness of their topic, Minerva raised an eyebrow. “You are aware that as headmaster of this school you really shouldn’t take such a gleeful approach to rule breaking.”

“Certain rules are meant to be broken, my dear Minerva, at least once in a young person’s life. I seem to recall quite a few you used to disregard yourself.”

Minerva shook her head, giving him an annoyed glare which he just waved off with a laugh.

She rewarmed her tea with subtle twist of her wand and brought the cup back to her lips, letting the silence descend as they each got lost in thought. The weight of the previous conversation dragged her thoughts back down alleys of painful memories, however, and finally she had no choice but to speak once more. “I keep seeing Jenny,” she admitted, her voice unusually thick with emotion. “That day I had to tell her about James and Lily. She was so devastated and heartbroken. She begged and begged me to be able to care for Harry, and I had to tell her no.”

Something very much like pain and regret filled her old friend’s face suddenly and she realized how her words had sounded. She knew his reasons and could even grudgingly agree with them, but Harry’s summer living arrangements were a topic Albus and she did not see eye to eye on and therefore one not often discussed. Still, she hadn’t meant to hurt him. She hurried on.

“Only now in my mind, the scene is turned on its head, and she keeps asking me why we didn’t care for Sadie, why we lost her little girl. I don’t know how to answer.” She stopped abruptly, clamping her jaw down before any more foolish nightmares could slip out into reality.

Albus steepled his fingers, his expression grave. Before them, the fire crackled and popped in the hearth, stirring Minerva’s dark thoughts off on a small tangent as the headmaster sat silently, weighing his words. In the leaping flames she saw the image of a teenaged girl – small and ragged – unable to express her gratitude for the warmth of the fire she’d finally worked up the courage to approach…

Minerva shook her head, forcefully burying the mental picture again just as Albus finally spoke.

“Evil doesn’t make answers convenient. You know that. Sometimes, it even leaves us without them, just awful, open questions that we can never close. Despite everything we try to do, evil wins the battle, and beautiful, innocent people like Sadie pay the price. But, I also know that while evil might claim victory in some battles, as long as we keep fighting it will never win the war.”

He paused, his eyes full of sorrow. “We don’t know what happened that day, or where Sadie has been these last seven years…what she’s been through. We can make guesses, but honestly, we may never know. Evil won that battle and she slipped through a crack; something that’s hard for us to accept. But really, the very fact that Sadie’s here with us, starting her new life is testament not to that evil, but to her goodness. She fought it and survived – not unscathed, but alive. All we can do now is adjust the ultimate score and move forward.”

Minerva pondered his words. Albus Dumbledore had a bit of a reputation as a silly, carefree old man, but she knew that was only a part of his personality that he deliberately allowed to take the forefront in order to mask who he truly was – a deep and wise man with more power than most cared to admit.

“Something else is eating at you, isn’t it?” he said after drilling her with that intense gaze of his.

Minerva nodded. “Her knowledge of the Dark Arts is…” She trailed off, not quite sure what word to use. “Albus, she has an innate understanding of the topic, how to fight it, but also how to use it. Not wand work – just instinctual, natural magic. It worries me. There is just so much of this I can't figure out.  I'm sure Jenny had started teaching her basic subjects, and she was a little bookworm, which could explain some of it.  But even besides the Dark Arts, she has knowledge she shouldn't.  And yet, she has absolutely no experience with a wand.  Don't you think we need to press harder to find out what’s happened to her, where she’s been?”

“No,” he answered with conviction. “I think, for now, we should let her keep her secrets. She’s scared and protecting herself in the only way that she knows how. I truly believe that's how she survived. Yet here we are, thrusting her into a strange and difficult world – didn’t you just call it a madhouse? We both know children, much as we adore them, are not always kind or prudent. The best action, surely, is to trust her instincts. Let her keep her secrets until she finds out for herself who to trust.”

There was a simple truth in his words. Minerva felt her worries calming slightly and she sipped her tea. Still, two more thoughts remained on the front of her mind.

“Should we attempt to locate Annalise? Tell her that Sadie has been found and is alive? Surely someone must have an idea where she’s retreated to.”

Albus’s mouth dipped into a small frown, his face strange and unreadable. “No, don’t. Not yet, at any rate. Let Sadie have one adjustment at a time, shall we?”

Minerva could see the wisdom in that. “And the glasses?” she asked lastly. “Are they as you suspected?”

“Yes,” Albus answered.

“Well, what should we do? Don’t we have an obligation to tell someone?” Her stomach clenched at the idea, knowing what it would mean for Sadie, but she just couldn’t ignore the moral compass that ran through her.

“Minerva,” the man said with a laugh, the odd expression of before vanishing, “I have never felt an obligation to tell anyone anything. There are far too many people in this world who think they know what’s best, for them and everyone else, when in reality, a little less knowing about everything and everyone would be extremely good for them.”

Minerva scrunched up her forehead, trying to make sense of what her friend had just said. He smiled at her expression.

“In other words,” he clarified, leaning back and crossing his hands contently in his lap. “To quote a brilliant Muggle saying: What they don’t know won’t hurt them.”

She grinned and just this once, Minerva found herself having to agree.

*****

In stunned awe, Sadie McLauchlin stared at herself in the full length mirror she’d come across in the long hallway. Slowly, she turned around, spreading her arms out as she glanced up and down, still hardly able to believe her eyes.

She was wearing clean, new clothes that had actually been bought just for her. The fabric of the blouse was soft and delicate, and she couldn’t help reaching up every once in a while to touch it with her fingertips, still amazed that something so nice could belong to her now. The skirt was simple, but they’d let her choose it, and to her the dusty blue color was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen. And to top it off, she had shoes on her feet! Real, new shoes! Over the years, shoes had become the greatest of luxuries, one she didn’t often get to indulge in. Her last pair, so graciously given to her by that kind librarian who saw her distress when informed of the library rules, had been stolen months ago. But now, she had shoes again – ones she’d picked out herself. It made her feel incredibly special.

Sadie couldn’t help thinking she looked so strange, with her hair washed and combed and the dirt all gone. She almost didn’t recognize herself; only her glasses were familiar, the one part of her past appearance she could never replace.

She stopped turning and faced the mirror, gazing intently, her thoughts racing. So much had happened so quickly. Just days ago she’d been begging on the streets of New York with no thoughts other than to stay alive and stay away from her. She’d never made any plans for the future because she wasn’t sure she’d even have one. Now she was in England – well Scotland to be exact as she remembered Professor McGonagall telling her that was where the castle she’d spent the last few nights at was located – preparing to go to school for the first time in her life like a normal human being!

It overwhelmed her and at least a dozen times a day it took every bit of courage she had to stay, to fight the deeply ingrained need to run and hide, to not trust. Back in the shadows of her past, when she’d been a different person, she remembered trusting people openly and instinctively. And then that day happened and that trust had been shattered forever.

But somewhere, buried deep inside, a little girl’s belief in light and goodness had survived; the knowledge that love existed and there was more to life than pain and suffering. It’s what made her fight to stay alive, to claw her way back up each time she felt she couldn’t go on.

When she’d looked up in that flat to see Professor McGonagall standing there and a million memories had crashed into her, that desperate part of her soul which had held out for something better cracked through the walls necessity had built around it and she found herself risking everything for one moment of trust. Her cynical mind had screamed at her not to, but her battered and lonely heart knew she must.

And they’d been so kind to her, Professor McGonagall and Professor Dumbledore. So patient and understanding. The first few days she’d lived in terror that the other shoe was going to drop, that they’d turn on her and she’d find herself trapped, a prisoner again. But now, even though she couldn’t explain why, she knew that would never happen. These people did care for her; she really was finally safe. So, when her instinct to flee tried to overpower her because years of behavior couldn’t be undone in a few days, she latched on to the thought of the two teachers, the kindness they’d given, and forced herself to remain.

“You look very lovely, Miss Sadie.”

Sadie spun around in surprise at the voice and then blushed to find Professor Dumbledore standing there smiling at her.

She smiled back, ducking her head.

“But I believe Professor McGonagall is searching for you. It’s time to go.”

A spark of panic shot through Sadie and her smile faltered. Can’t I stay here with you? she longed to ask but the old professor wouldn’t understand her signs and she was too embarrassed to write the question on the wonderful, new notebook Professor McGonagall had bought for her in New York. But somehow he read her mind.

“I’m sorry but you can’t stay here. Not just yet,” he said kindly. “The school has preparations for start of term that need to be done, and you, my dear girl, have people you need to meet, friends to make.”

*I’m afraid,* her hands confessed suddenly, shaking as she formed the words. *I can’t do this.*

To her surprise, Professor Dumbledore seemed to know what she said. He stepped up and reached a hand out, running it gently down her hair in a grandfatherly gesture. “Sadie McLauchlin, you can do this. You’ll see. You will rise, like a phoenix from the ashes, and someday you will burn bright with life and hope again.”

He dropped his hand and Sadie felt tears prick the corners of her eyes. It had been a long time since someone had found such goodness in her.

“Now,” the professor continued, the moment passing, “it would be unfair to keep Professor McGonagall waiting any longer, don’t you agree?”

Sadie nodded. She glanced one last time at her strange, new reflection in the mirror and then turned and followed Professor Dumbledore down the corridor.


Author's Note: Thanks to Pix and CambAngst for ideas and encouragement as I struggled through the first part of this. And as always, thanks to my beta-reader, muse, and friend Smuffly - for everything!
 
 


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