I will never understand where this site gets its wonky word counts. To my judge for this round of the QLFC, if you need it, I can send a doc that shows my real word count. It's not over 3000. Anyway! To everybody else: this is Round 3 for me as Chaser 1 of the Caerphilly Catapults. This round, I had to write about my OTP dealing with a death, and my prompts were the word 'inkling', this photograph ( re school your self dot com [slash] wp-content [slash] uploads [slash] images [slash] ), and the line 'What have I done this time?'
Love you all!
Hermione smoothed back her chignon in the blustery October winds and knocked on the cottage door. There was no answer. Frowning, she stood on her tiptoes and tried to look through the lacy curtains. It was nearly teatime, so she couldn't imagine that she was so early that Minerva was out.
She bit her lip and knocked on the door again, more loudly.
"Minerva? Minerva, it's Hermione, are you home?" Hermione called, trying again to see through the curtains.
Now a little nervous, Hermione drew her wand and tapped the doorknob. The door swung open immediately, and Hermione walked in.
A fire crackled in the grate, though it looked a little low. Hermione relaxed immediately; sitting in an armchair a few feet from the fireplace was Minerva, who was soundly asleep, her head in her hand.
Quietly, Hermione walked to her and touched her arm. Minerva started, waking up at once.
"Hermione," she gasped, her hand flying to her throat. "My goodness, is it five already?"
"It's all right," Hermione replied. "It's all right, don't worry…"
"I'm so sorry," said Minerva, reaching for her cane.
"I've never seen you sleep in the middle of the day," Hermione told her. "Are you sure you're all right?"
Minerva was getting slowly to her feet, one hand on her cane and the other on the arm of her chair. She laughed. "Don't be ridiculous—ah, thank you, dear," she said, as Hermione took her elbow and helped her straighten up. "There we are," she said, starting to make her way to the kitchen.
Hermione watched her sadly, keeping a careful hand on her arm; Minerva was growing very old. Her hair was pure white now, and her face was creased and wrinkled deeply, but her mind was as sharp as ever. It was only the physical pains of aging that were slowing her down.
When she'd run out onto the Hogwarts lawn after Dolores Umbridge and taken four Stunning Spells at once, she'd broken her hip, and it, along with a handful of old injuries, had lingered. Now, some forty-odd years later, Minerva was positively sticklike, a bit stooped over, and extremely stiff in all of her joints.
"I haven't even started our tea," she said. "My goodness, I'm sorry, Her—" she broke off suddenly, clasping a handkerchief over her mouth as she began to cough. It sounded painful, and she actually stopped walking and leaned against the wall.
"You're sick?" Hermione asked at once. "Minerva, why didn't you say? Oh, come here—"
Minerva shook her head, but couldn't draw enough breath between coughs to speak, and had to allow Hermione, who had one hand around her waist and one clutching the arm that held her cane, to help her to the sofa. Hermione kept her hand at Minerva's back, trying to comfort her as she coughed harder into her handkerchief.
At last, Minerva sat back, catching her breath as she shut her eyes for a moment. She held Hermione's hand tightly. "I would say it isn't all that bad," she said faintly, "but I'm not fond of dishonesty."
"Oh, Minerva," said Hermione, her heart sinking. "Can I do something? Let me make you some tea—and soup, I'll make soup—that'll help you feel better."
She fully expected Minerva to scoff and tell her to stay out of her kitchen, but she simply closed her eyes and leaned back again. "Thank you, dear," she murmured.
Ron pulled two Mandrake leaf-patterned mugs from the cupboard and set them on the tea tray he was preparing, beside a plate of biscuits, the milk jug, and the teapot. He picked the whole thing up and quietly carried it in the direction of Hermione's study. It was a deceptively sunny day for November, but outside their sitting room windows, Ron could see the cold wind bending back the trees in their garden.
Minerva McGonagall hadn't been particularly well for the last couple of years, but that hadn't made her death any less shocking or upsetting. The last two weeks had been a flurry of activity, ranging from the private funeral Minerva's nieces and nephews had arranged so that she could be buried next to her late husband, to the stunning announcement that she would be the second-ever head of school to have a memorial in her honor on the Hogwarts grounds.
The service at Hogwarts was tomorrow afternoon, and Minerva's family had asked Hermione to deliver a eulogy; unfortunately, she seemed to have developed something of a block. Ron was fairly sure that she hadn't slept last night—let alone for the last week or so.
Rose had been visiting on almost a daily basis, trying to help take Hermione's mind off of things. However, Rose was grieving almost as much as Hermione, it seemed, and between them, their tempers were so short they couldn't really spend too much time together. Ron had an inkling that they would be all right, given some time, but yesterday, after they'd had yet another blowup, he had finally succeeded in persuading Rose to let him take things over.
He was just approaching Hermione's study, the tea tray in his hands, when the door flew open and Hermione emerged, looking harried. She held a sheaf of parchment in one hand and a quill in the other. Her graying brown hair was coming out of the knot at the back of her head, like she'd been running her fingers through it repeatedly. Her brows were contracted over her glasses as she caught sight of Ron.
"Ron—oh, good—listen to this, will you?" she said, clearing her throat as he set the tray down on the coffee table. "Today, Minerva McGonagall deservingly joins the ranks of one of her most distinguished predecessors. The Ministry, and the wizarding community at large, are indebted to the many—no, damn it—"
And she stormed into her office again, slamming the door behind her. A little startled, Ron followed her and opened the door just a crack.
As he peered inside, Hermione dropped into her desk chair, tossing the parchment and quill on her desk. Then she removed her glasses and rubbed her eyes, apparently thinking hard—or perhaps she simply had a headache.
Sensing an opportunity, Ron cleared his throat. "Hermione, did you want some tea?"
She looked up at him, looking vaguely annoyed. "What—no, Ron, I'm fine, thanks," she said distractedly.
"Are you sure? I've got it all ready," he said quietly. "I thought you could use a break…"
Hermione laid both hands on her desk and met his eyes seriously and said, in a measured but rather cold tone, "Ron, no. Thank you, I appreciate the thought, but I don't have the time."
Ron opened his mouth, wanting to say something, but feeling suddenly unable to speak. "All—all right," he said quietly.
"Close the door?" Hermione asked, her eyes already on her parchment again.
Ron and Hermione went to see Minerva together, not long after she had finally consented to a visit from a Healer—they were somewhat startled to find that she was no longer strong enough to get out of bed. Minerva's niece, Isobel, a pretty, older woman with bobbed gray hair, let them into the cottage.
"Thank you for coming," she said, embracing them both.
"Thanks for writing to us," Ron replied earnestly, patting her back.
Isobel smiled. "She'd never have given me a moment's peace if I hadn't."
Hermione swallowed hard, holding Ron's hand tight. "How is she now?"
"Resting," said Isobel. "Come and see her—we just had tea."
Hermione hesitated, touching Isobel's arm. "We don't want to overwhelm her, if she's tired."
Ron nodded again. "We don't mind waiting."
"That's kind," Isobel nodded, and her eyes looked inexpressibly sad. "It's all right, though, I promise. She'll be so glad to see you."
"All right," Hermione said quietly. Ron placed a hand on her back, and together they followed Isobel to Minerva's bedroom door.
"Don't worry about waking her, she was just up and talking a moment ago, she knows I was fetching you," she said quietly, pushing it open.
Minerva lay in the large bed, her eyes closed. Her glasses were off, sitting on the bedside table. The rest of the table was occupied by a tray that held the largest collection of potion bottles Ron had ever seen. The sight made his stomach turn and ache unpleasantly again. He had been around his share of people who were seriously ill; it was something else entirely to see Minerva this way.
There was a shawl draped over Minerva's rather thin shoulders, and her hands were folded over her middle. She looked pale, and, for the first time in Ron's memory, she seemed very, very old. Ron felt his heart sink—and then he realized that Isobel had just placed two chairs beside the bed, and Hermione had already moved to sit in one. He looked over his shoulder at Isobel, who nodded.
He sat down next to Hermione, who picked up Minerva's hand and watched her for a sign of movement.
"Hm," Minerva mumbled as her eyes fluttered open. She smiled widely when she saw them. "Oh, you're here."
"We're here," said Hermione in a bright, gentle voice, patting her arm. She looked back at Ron, waiting to see if he would speak.
"Yeah," he managed at last, smiling back at Minerva. "Yeah, of course we are."
After Ron closed her office door, Hermione crumpled up yet another piece of parchment and placed it on the blotter that covered her desk, beside the small pile of balled-up pages she had been adding to all morning. She picked up her quill again and sighed, trying to clear her mind.
Tears filled her eyes yet again and she sniffled, taking out her handkerchief and wiping her nose. She set aside her quill and got up, walking over to the bookshelf beside the window. She didn't know what she was looking for, exactly, but she needed to find something—surely something she had read had prepared her for such an event as this? She'd said goodbye to so many people in her life—some far too soon—and yet now, she found herself completely lost for words.
Hermione ran her fingers over the volumes on the shelf, her eyes not really seeing what they were. Her hand stopped at the end, beside a framed picture that had been taken at the end of Hugo's first birthday party.
Hermione picked up the photograph and smiled. In the photograph, Minerva was sitting in a chair, holding sleeping Hugo and laughing as three-year-old Rose spoke to her animatedly and leaned against Minerva's knee.
There was a dull, achy feeling in Hermione's heart. Minerva had spent her entire life devoting herself to the people she cared most about, and, all things considered, she had been given the end she deserved: quiet, dignified, and without terrible suffering. But that didn't stop Hermione from feeling utterly devastated and alone in the wake of her loss.
"Rose visited," Minerva said quietly. In the last few days that Hermione had been visiting her, her health had become somewhat more precarious, but she refused to be taken to St. Mungo's.
Since yesterday, she had been fading in and out of consciousness. Hermione and Ron had been around intermittently throughout her illness, taking a few hours of visiting time here and there so that her niece and nephews had chances to go home and have a brief respite with their families.
"What was that?" Hermione asked softly, leaning forward and taking her hand.
"Rose…and Hugo," Minerva smiled. "They were here this morning. They're wonderful, aren't they?" she asked Hermione.
At the Healer's last visit, he had recommended that she be given a slightly stronger dose of one of her potions for pain; this had greatly improved her spirits, but had resulted in many more hours of sleep and exhaustion. It hadn't been a particularly long illness by any means, but Minerva's strength was ebbing quickly, and there was little that anyone could do except to make her comfortable.
"I'm glad you got to see them," Hermione said, keeping her voice light and soft.
"So am I," she replied, nodding seriously. "Now I've only got a few left I'll have to see before I go." Hermione felt her chin tremble. "Oh…please don't look at me like that," Minerva told her, looking suddenly upset. "I haven't said goodbye to you yet."
Hermione sighed and sat down at her desk again, covering her eyes with both hands and pressing hard, wishing more than anything for the sharpness and clarity of this memory to subside. It wasn't for several minutes that she heard an odd, muffled sound from the next room. She got up, frowning, and went to her door.
Ron sat before the tea he'd made for Hermione, which was now growing cold. He stared at her closed office door, trying to determine whether or not he should try to go in again.
Deciding against it, he put his tea mug down on the tray and leaned his head back, deciding that he could certainly wait Hermione out; almost forty years of marriage had conditioned him to be patient through even her most intense periods of burying herself in work. He allowed his mind to wander. For a while, he thought about what would happen tomorrow, when they arrived at Hogwarts.
Then, slowly, he started thinking of Albus Dumbledore's funeral. Of all the things he could have remembered about that day, all the things that had changed, all the unimaginable events that had followed, he remembered most the sweltering heat.
He swallowed and looked out the window again, feeling a lump rise in his throat. Minerva had always been there, for every situation and every major event in their lives, and then, in a single, brief moment, she was gone. And it felt more wrong to Ron than he could ever have imagined. The very idea that they—or anyone—could be expected to say goodbye to her was beyond ludicrous.
Isobel, her brothers, and their cousin were good enough to send word to Ron and Hermione when the Healer had given the word that Minerva likely didn't have very much longer. They filled the cottage that night, and took it in turns to sit and chat with her—Ron had gotten into an amiable argument with Minerva about the outcome of the Quidditch Cup, Magpies or Cannons—but she had had very little energy to spare, and so most of the evening, she slept.
"Ron—would you put a light on in the bedroom? Just the wee one on the desk," Isobel asked him gently, as she set a pot of soup on the dining table beside a stack of bowls. "She shouldn't wake up in the dark."
"Of course," he replied, setting down the soupspoons he held and going to Minerva's room, opening the door quietly and approached the desk, which was on the far side of Minerva's bed. As he switched the light on, he felt the nearly imperceptible change in the room.
He hadn't expected to be alone in the room with Minerva when it happened. He hadn't imagined that he would be the one to find that she had gone quiet and still, her expression serene, as though she were simply listening to the low hum of her family's conversation in the next room.
Now unable to hold them back, Ron leaned forward on the couch as hot tears filled his eyes, and a pained noise escaped his throat. Suddenly, Hermione's office door opened.
"Ron?" she said softly, her hand still on the doorknob as she stared at him, her eyes red and puffy.
He tried to clear his throat and get his composure back, standing up. "Yeah—er—what have I done this time?" he asked, blinking rapidly and trying to joke with her.
Hermione hurried forward, wrapping her arms around him, and began to sob; he held her just as tightly, as the wall that held the pain inside his chest cracked, and then crumbled. It was nearly ten minutes before they had both calmed down enough to wipe away each other's tears, and talk together for a long while as the sun set outside the window overlooking the garden.
The eulogy that Hermione wrote was included in the Daily Prophet's coverage of the memorial; Ginny saw to this personally. But regardless of Isobel's kind thanks, or Ron's comforting words, Hermione couldn't help but feel that it wasn't quite right. She hadn't captured the look of the people who had gathered to pay their respects at Hogwarts that day; there was no way to describe how the cool winds were blowing over the Black Lake or the sky full of towering bluish-gray clouds that hung over the assembled students, faculty, and mourners.
But Hermione, who had always striven for perfection, who had spent all of her life going over every detail until it was absolutely, perfectly right, surrendered to the fact that if what she had said wasn't right, then it was enough; there was no perfect, easy way to say this goodbye.