For the TGS Mature Challenge
Monsters walked around with the guises of human faces.
Minerva considered this statement as she took a silver arrow from the quiver and notched it. She imagined herself falling flat on her face. When her parents introduced their second son, Robert, to the congregation back in … a long, long time ago, she'd done this very thing; she'd fallen straight on her face. Malcolm had pointed at her with his pudgy finger and laughed his head off.
Malcolm, still pudgy, stood in the back of the classroom and watched with polite interest. He wore a dress shirt and faded jeans, completely disregarding school rules, but he made no scene as he ran his sausage fingers through his blonde hair. Minerva remembered her father once asking these light-hearted questions: Where had this blonde-haired, blue-eyed ball of energy come from? And what, exactly, were the details to the return policy?
Robert McGonagall never came right out and said it. Who picked among their children? Malcolm, hands down, was the reverend's favorite son, for he was nothing like the austere, righteous man, and Malcolm stuck around for the food, the awkwardness, and the jokes.
Exhale, inhale, exhale. Minerva demonstrated a principle to her students. The moment the arrow shot through the air, the sides of Malcolm's mouth twitched, and the and arrow pierced the heart of a pigeon.
In mid-squak, the pigeon transformed into a fresh red apple and a black feathered quill. The sixth-years did double takes. James Potter's arm shot straight in the air. He perched himself on the desk, ignoring Remus Lupin, who told him to sit down. Malcolm tossed his sister the apple halves, one after the other, and Minerva brought the apple back together before it landed in her open hand.
"Mr. Potter." Minerva weighed the fruit in her hand.
"That was cool," said James, running a shaky hand through his dark hair. Lily Evans, three seats behind him, picked up a roll of parchment off the floor.
"Thank you," said Minerva, waiting for a follow-up question somewhere in this assessment.
"Core element," said Remus.
Minerva, impressed, pointed at James, telling him to sit without saying a single word, and inquired whether Remus meant to deliver this as a question or a statement. The happy-go-lucky Chaser got the point and scurried back in place, making Malcolm laugh heartily.
"A statement? Core element," said Remus, stronger this time, sitting up straighter. He sounded wrong footed nonetheless.
With thirteen students in the Advanced Transfiguration class, Minerva steered the conversation towards them, especially with a week left in the spring term. Remus Lupin broke things down into plain English, which is honestly why Minerva admired him. She often forgot to do this. Albus Dumbledore had not handed her the higher ups until two years ago. The bell rang, signaling the end of the day, but her students knew not to dart to to the door and escape into the weekend.
Minerva tossed Remus Lupin the apple. Remus, as surprised as anyone else, caught it before it slipped through his fingers, and Lily, smiling, slung her school bag over her shoulder and muttered something Minerva couldn't hear.
"In case you missed it, Remus Lupin's the one to beat. Until Monday." After dismissing the class, Minerva pointed her wand at the blackboard as the script erased itself. Malcolm walked up, taking Minerva's briefcase from her and steering her towards the door. "What is it?"
"A woman's never turned me down," he said, rolling his eyes at the ceiling when Minerva shot him a sharp look.
"Poor Pudge." Slinging the quiver over her shoulder, she pouted, feeding him the reaction the he wanted. He'd meant nothing by this. Minerva, jostled by the queue, stopped outside of the office and placed the archery equipment inside the wardrobe.
A house-elf, a skinny tired thing draped in a toga, built a fire by hand. Libby lit the fire by magical means.
"It's summer." Malcolm slumped into a chair and shrugged when Minerva frowned at him.
"Nobody, ma'am," said Libby, wincing a little at her touch. Libby had returned briefly back to her home and returned sometime in the afternoon. "Libby walked into a door?"
"How many times?" Malcolm frowned slightly. He chose not to buy a word of this, for he cared as much for repressed and broken things as his work as foreign correspondent. Minerva held up two fingers, warning him. He shot back a fit response. "Yes, Reverend."
"Libby, this is my brother, Malcolm. Malcolm, get the kit in my desk." Minerva examined Libby's face.
"Hello, sir." Libby fell in a perfect curtsy without thinking about it, and she paid for it when she tried to remain upright.
"Good afternoon, Libby." Light and casual. Malcolm patched the house-elf up and laid her in the bed like a small child. Minerva opened the wall to her sleeping chambers with a touch of her hand, and she said no words against this, because she didn't know what to do. Malcolm tucked Libby in like he did every night with his small children. He flashed Minerva four fingers.
"Anne's pregnant again," she said, guessing she interpreted this correctly.
Malcolm had a Deaf son, Shepherd, and he delighted in the fact his sister preferred to stay in the dark. He switched to sign language simply to prove his point, and Minerva enjoyed the silent treatment because she had no idea what her brother said.
Minerva threw out a shot in the dark. "It's a girl."
"You said this before." Malcolm loved his son. Upon discovering he was Deaf, Malcolm plunged himself into another community, and Shepard brought life and love to his life.
"And you've been happily married for fifteen years." She stopped, counting in her head, almost counting on her fingers. Minerva found Malcolm's lightness about his so-called love life laughable, because she'd never someone as socially awkward as her little brother. Malcolm caught her and fell casually into a dancer's stance. "What is this?"
"You helped me not mess up on my wedding day. You wrote my vows." Malcolm matched her step for step, and Minerva fell back on her breathing exercises.
"I married Anne?" Minerva failed to check his meaning and managed to get a smile.
"How should I answer this?" Malcolm toyed with this.
"You're an idiot, Pudge. It's your anniversary and you're here with your sister…" Minerva debated sending Anne an owl.
"My stick in the mud," said Malcolm, who lived for his strict father, the man who lived ten minutes away, and he served his happy wife. "But my favorite sister? I told you when … I tell you everything every single time. We're having another baby. I need a name."
Minerva stiffened, surprised by this request. Her beady eyes darted at the concealed wall, and she she somehow put two and two together, although she couldn't really explain how she'd arrived here in the first place. Malcolm dipped her into a waltz pose, his expression confused. Minerva broke the dance.
"I'm an idiot," said Minerva, hugging herself.
"Why?" Malcolm stole one of the arrows from the quiver as a parting gift. He pecked her on the cheek. "Mine. You'll miss dinner."
Minerva promised to get back with him with suggestions. Malcolm left through the fireplace, and the emerald green flames swallowed him. Minerva watched him go, and she nursed a bottle of red wine as jumbled thoughts ran through her head. Libby requested time off. She came back.
Acting like nothing out of the ordinary happened. Libby woke up and went to fetch Minerva dinner. Minerva tightened her fingers around Libby's wrist. "If you need to tell me anything ..."
"Libby isn't an equal," said the house-elf. She bowed slightly, although pain etched across her face and in her large eyes. "Libby must tend to the kitchens."
"Libby." Minerva let her go.
She paced the office, leaving the food on the desk. Minerva took a shower, and she stared at her robes before tossing them in the hamper. Laundry day was was either Saturday or Sunday. She pulled at her fingers, pillow friends with a bottle of red wine. Whenever the world refused it make sense, she settled on an awful diet; she ought not to drink on an empty stomach.
Fraying at the edges and trying to keep it together at the same time, Minerva experienced a freefall, despite the fact her feet stayed on the ground. People rarely saw this side of her, although it certainly make appearances. The drink saturated her brain, so she decided to hide in her bedroom. Her father had often suggested to call a friend in a time of crisis.
She did this. Elphinstone Urquart stepped out of the fireplace. He wore a charcoal grey trench coat over dress clothes and thought to bring a bottle of Bordeaux to keep her half-empty bottle company. Minerva strung her words together, and Elphinstone listened patiently, nodding at the appropriate stops. Or Minerva imagined this because he let her say anything. He carried his weight around the middle like a pear, but whenever he walked into a courtroom, he commanded respect.
"You said Libby asked to go to Malfoy Manor," said Elphinstone, holding up a finger to stop her to retrace his steps. Minerva walked, imagining a straight line as she placed one foot in front of the other. She knew well slightly inebriated people couldn't accomplish this task. Elphinstone helped her in the desk chair, and he turned his head when someone, presumably a student, knocked on her office door. Elphinstone made her face him. "No."
"No." Minerva touched a finger to his lips. She repeated what he'd said and conjured two wine glasses. "Drink with me."
"You're drunk," he said flatly. Elphinstone took the bottle from her.
"Professor. Professor?" James Potter pounded on her office door.
"You're pretty," said Minerva, patting Elphinstone's cheek.
"Every man lives to hear this," he said dryly, slapping her hand when she reached for the bottle and refilled her glass. Elphinstone pointed at the door. "Kid's persistent. I thought he'd go away."
"You shouldn't be here, Elphinstone. Elphinstone." The sound of footsteps meant James went away. Minerva straightened the man's collar and smiled at him. "I'm the reverend's daughter and nobody knows a servant … a slave stands by my side."
"Yes." Elphinstone stowed the bottles away. When he turned around, Minerva laughed at some nonsense in her head. "Explain."
"My father doesn't know. I'm the discreet, pious daughter." Minerva started crying, waving her arm at the closed wall. After he helped her into her night things, Elphinstone helped her to bed, shushing her when she started crying. "Like a cow. Libby has a child like some … I can't think of anything…"
"A cow or a ewe." Elphinstone supplied an easy comparison, setting her wine glass on a book. He kissed her. A soft, wet kiss, and Minerva asked him to stay. Embarrassed, Elphinstone rubbed his hands and jumped when there was another student at the door. Or he presumed so. It was James again. "Does he ever go away?"
"No." Minerva got up and searched for tartan dressing gown. "Where is it?"
"What? Forget it." Elphinstone cursed in Gaelic when James pounded on the door. Minerva went back to nursing her glass, and she wandered back into her office as Elphinstone discussed Quidditch with James. He stopped, watching Minerva when she started searching for something. "Yes?"
"Professor, about next year's team…" James jumped to his feet.
"You don't see me," she said, spreading jam on a cold dinner roll. James went in a spill about Karen Sloper. Minerva took her hair down and started to braid it. "I am not here, Mr. Potter."
"Yeah, but,"said James, not hearing a word of this slur.
"Good night." Elphinstone handed her another roll. "You want me to fetch more?"
"No, thank you." Minerva went back into the bedroom and sat on the edge of the bed.
"She's not feeling well," said Elphinstone, clearly out of his element here and leaning heavily on politeness. Minerva watched him, caught somewhere between sleep and wakefulness. Minerva flipped through a dictionary, a legal reference, as she sipped her drink. "Possession."
"You want me to spell it?" Elphinstone, amused, turned towards her as he clapped his hands together. "Phonetics. Professor, you have to spell to look up a word. Baby steps."
"Mr. Urquart. You're rude." Minerva continued with a thick tongue.
"Yeah. Who're you?" James glanced from Minerva to Elphinstone.
"I'm … I'm ummmm..." Elphinstone, uncharacteristically lost for words, ran his hand through his white hair. He smiled uncomfortably at James. "I am a lawyer."
"Mr. Urquart." Shaking hands with Elphinstone, James pieced together whatever he had, which was nothing, and Minerva laid back on the bed and covered her face in her hands. She heard the grin behind his words.
"Mr. Potter." Minerva struggled with where to begin.
"She's not a nun. Teachers have lives after class ends … she's had a long day." Elphinstone proved a gifted orator and played well with words. He had a son, a Deaf son, and he stayed a people person at heart. "Okay?"
"Okay." James said good night and left.
"Mr. Potter." Minerva used Elphinstone to steady herself linked her arm through his. She remembered an essay and a set detention. "If I don't see an essay on Locke Law under my door by breakfast tomorrow, we're going to have a problem. Three rolls of parchment."
"Three rolls?" James pulled a straight face when Minerva met him with a stony expression. "Two and a half?"
Minerva see sawed her hand, not committing to anything, but she doubted whether she would remember the details of this shaky negotiation. James left before she could change her mind.
"Possession. Come with me." Elphinstone waited for her to nod, and pulled her back through the fireplace after finding her dressing gown. They travelled by Floo Powder and he danced with her her, simply shuffling their feet. She made a suggestion, but he veered her into the handsome office. "Sit."
"This is inappropriate," she said slowly.
"Yeah, you crossed that line the moment you took advantage of me." Elphinstone left, leaving her to figure this one out, but he came back with black coffee and and stash of snacks. He fell into an armchair and opened thick volumes.
"My brother knows about us." Minerva listened to Elphinstone read through cases, decisions, and definitions.
"Libby isn't yours," he said, perching his glasses on his nose. He pinched the bridge of his nose, too, weary. Minerva sipped her coffee and wrapped herself in a blanket.
"She belongs to the school." Minerva studied a photograph of Elphinstone's son, Joshua. In the photograph, Elphinstone rested his hands in Joshua's. It had been taken years ago.
"Yes and no." Elphinstone walked over, lost in his reading for some time and stopped when she reduced herself to tears. He read through an account of of a pure-blood wizard burning everything to the ground. He patted his leg and sighed when she sat on his lap, making herself home there. Elphinstone held a roll of parchment. "This is Abraxas Malfoy's will."
Minerva frowned at him. "You drafted his will?"
Elphinstone kissed her passionately. "Are Joshua and I the same person?"
Minerva shook her head, blinking away her tears.
"Abraxas isn't Lucius." Elphinstone broke these things down simply. "I play chess with Abraxas. Abraxas Malfoy told me to love my Deaf, bastard boy because he was mine. No matter what. That man, a good man, taught me sign language. Or he found people who taught me."
Elphinstone demonstrated sign language for her.
"I love you," she said, giving him the three words he loved to hear. Elphinstone sighed, content when Minerva rested her head on his shoulder. They linked their fingers together. "Malcolm wants to meet you."
"He does," said Elphinstone, saying these words aloud to himself. "What are we?"
"I don't understand." Minerva took Abraxas's will and started reading through it silently.
"Friends? Good friends? Am I your boyfriend?" Elphinstone whispered in her ear, a sultriness slipping in. "Do you want to know what I'm thinking?"
"Do not ask me to marry you."
"No, Professor." Elphinstone held up his hands, surrendering.
Minerva raised her eyebrows. "What do you tell Joshua?"
"What should I be telling him?" Elphinstone played with words and went with the truth. "I told him we share a room in a pub, so he knows about everything, but if you wanted to run off to the courthouse tomorrow …"
"Mr. Urquart," she cut cross him, her eyes flashing dangerously behind her rectangular spectacles as she got things back on track. "I can't imagine having a baby and leaving a house like nothing happened."
"Abraxas owned Libby. He owns her. She is not a person, Minerva, and strictly speaking, he owns her descendants. Her husband, Knowles, and the child …" Elphinstone searched a house-elf lineage and searched for a name. "Dobby."
Minerva, appalled, sat there. "This is wrong."
"If someone took Joshua from you …"
"It's not the same thing," he said, forever the professional legal layman. Elphinstone shrugged, cutting out the fat. "Katherine tried to take him from me once. I told her she'd have to take this boy from my dead, cold hands. He's mine."
Minerva nodded. "Exactly."
"Of course, she's moving onto her seventh husband with Zander Zabini," said Elphinstone conversationally. He stifled a laugh. "Ergo Joss calls you his stepmother."
Minerva clicked her tongue on the roof of her mouth.
"Not out loud. Certainly not to your face. I think he's afraid of you." Elphinstone found a scratch pad and started dumping h s thoughts on paper.
"I'll hand her my travelling cloak." Minerva frowned when Elphinstone said this wouldn't work.
"Is this what you want?" Elphinstone would've fallen off a cliff for her.
"Yes." Minerva nodded, strangely afraid and comforted at the same time. She kissed him good night. "I want them to burn for this."