3 May 1997
Minerva paced the room. The headmaster's office, like the rest of Hogwarts Castle, got reduced to nothing after the war. But it was over. She started back and forth, her mind pulled in a thousand places at once. People began with the first step, but where exactly was this when you didn't know where to start? Exhausted and sore, Minerva walked in circles, placing one foot in front of the other.
Harry Potter walked into the office and stared blankly at her. He started to say something, words she didn't catch, and Minerva finally settled on placing her rectangular spectacles on the desk. The portrait of Albus Dumbledore hung behind the desk.
Albus tapped his long fingers on his chair. "You're talking to yourself."
"What time is it?" Minerva catched her wrist and noticed she wore no watch.
"Three thirteen," said Harry, catching his watch. He sat on the floor instead of the chair. He'd made her jump, and the sides of his mouth twitched. "Are you okay?"
Harry Potter had gotten up after a sleep in the dormitory.
"Sorry. Are you all right?" Harry pulled on a jumper and grinned at Kingsley Shacklebolt buried in a circle of texts and volumes. Kingsley, lost in his work, closed a book and did not look up. "You are in it."
"O'dark thirty. Almost thirty." Kingsley glanced at Minerva. "Pacing in circles. You're venturing into what my wife calls second degree crazy."
Minerva, lost, muttered about the press conference in a few hours. "What?"
"Circles. When you're thinking, you pace back and forth, but when you're troubled or something's bothering you? Circles." Kingsley marked his place and twirled his finger. Albus nodded. Kingsley, running on fumes like the newly appointed and lost headmistress, got up and placed his hands on Minerva's slumped shoulders. "Step away for a moment."
"Press conference." Minerva took a roll of parchment Kingsley offered her. "What's this?"
"An expected line. Yes, you acknowledge the historical significance of this, that, and the other." Kingsley fished words out of the air, and although he spoke of this lightly, he recognized the losses, too. "A gift from Patricia. I tweaked it."
"Patricia. Isn't she a press secretary?" Minerva studied Kingsley's face. She'd often wondered what it felt like being married to the powerhouse who led the president of America.
"She keeps me from acting like an idiot." Kingsley shrugged when Harry laughed. Kingsley shrugged, plain spoken. "Being honest."
"Thank you." Minerva hugged him, although she fretted a little in the back of her mind about reciting words from a woman she'd only heard about through reputation. "Isn't she American?"
"Denver, Colorado, born and raised," said Kingsley, his voice calm and reassuring as always. Kingsley kept his life under lock and key, but when he dropped the name of Patricia Louis, he turned heads nonetheless. "How can I phrase this delicately? Problems disappear when Patricia Laura Louis enters the room. No magic required."
Albus smiled politely. "She tried to save Cornelius once."
"Yeah… well…" Kingsley shrugged as if to say the former Minister for Magic signed his political death certificate and burned his career to the ground. Mr. Fudge had chosen Umbridge over his wife. "I told her to stay put in the States. Madam Umbridge called Patti an idiot."
Minerva sniffed sharply, for she hated the very mention of this woman's name. Harry burst out laughing, and Minerva, surprised by this reaction, turned to face him, eyebrows knitted together.
Harry shrugged, completely unabashed. "It was funny. She's a bitch."
"Mr. Potter!" Minerva laid her speech on the desk.
Harry smiled at Kingsley, and not looking at the Transfiguration professor, said, "Sorry."
"Patti Louis is a Godsend," said Minerva.
"She's on her way. She asked to do your makeup." Kingsley took the compliment and bowed his head when Minerva said yes. "When she's here, no offense, Patricia plays judge, jury and public opinion. It helps if you don't think."
"Oh, thank God. Is this what she tells you, sir?" Minerva smiled, the first time she had in days. Kingsley shrugged, taking out his wallet and showing her a photograph of a little mixed girl holding a newborn. "They are adorable."
"I'm owned by three women." Kingsley beamed at her. "Best things I ever did. Patti took shots in the apartment."
Harry took the wallet when Kingsley offered it to him. "You're married? What're their names?"
"Charlotte and Julia," said Kingsley proudly. Harry flashed a photograph of a pale woman, Patti, holding the elder daughter, Charlotte, outside of the New York Public Library. "I took that one."
"Your face. You've got them wrapped around your little finger, Mr. Shacklebolt." Minerva went to take a shower as she slipped into the tub, she decided on a bath and played with the tap. She dozed off, and when she drifted out of sleep, she caught a whiff of tobacco and peppermint. A man touched her shoulders, and she closed her eyes, seeing Elphinstone's face in her mind's eye. "You're not here."
"No." His voice, distant and deep, cleared her mind.
Minerva turned her head, delirious and sleep deprived. She tasted Elphinstone, kissing him, long and slow. Minerva caught a glimpsed his reflection in the mirror. Instead of looking weak and sickly in a hospital bed, he appeared about fifty, his face full.
"I love you." Minerva looked towards the locked door, completely wrapped by a memory and a figment of her imagination. Elphinstone lathered her hair, careful to wrap her hair, and buried himself in her neck. "I miss this."
"Yeah." Elphinstone sighed when she touched her wet face. He kissed her back.
"Why aren't you here?" Minerva, angry with someone who wasn't even there, for she'd been quite alone for thirteen years, wondered if her mind protected her. "I'm not dying? You're not here for me? You would play that card."
"No. Not yet." Elphinstone said nothing for a long time. He laughed, sitting on the edge of the bathtub as Minerva dressed in black dress robes and checked for a spare set in the cupboard. "Last time this happened, a war ended …"
"I remember." Minerva blushed. She pictured him, recalled crying out his name. Elphinstone said little that night. Now, he wrapped his arms, strong and comforting, and he wore the old crinkly-eyed smile. "You were frightened? When you started out as a lawyer?"
"Or when you found out Joshua was Deaf?" Minerva wanted to hear a story.
"Minerva." Elphinstone stood there.
"I feel you. I smell you, and I want you." Minerva put herself back together after about seven years. His heart didn't beat. "I'm frightened, Elphinstone, I'm not … I'm not like him… and I am alone. And you're here."
"No. You are not alone." Elphinstone flickered like an image.
"You can't be a ghost. I feel you." Minerva placed her hand on his chest, taking in his casual clothing. "If I were … if something were wrong with me, I'd want you."
"Minerva, it's nothing. Something you'll die with." Elphinstone shrugged as if this were nothing of consequence. "Whenever you are ready, dearie, I am here for you."
"Not today," said Minerva.
"Not today." Elphinstone watched her change into her tartan dressing gown. He chuckled. "I might be younger than you. Why would you think of me like this? Because we moved on."
"With what?" Minerva closed her eyes again.
"This." Elphinstone moved her wet hair out of the way, and laughing, stepped back when she tightened the strap of her dressing gown. "You are the bravest person I've ever met. It's handled."
"It's handled." She nodded, taking his hand and kissing it. It wasn't crippled by arthritis. "Why are you telling me what I want to hear?"
"It's in your head. I love you, dearie." Next moment, Elphinstone evaporated, although he wasn't there in the first place.
Minerva wiped the mirror jumped out of her skin when she spotted the house-elf. Unlike the house-elves, she did not wear a Hogwarts toga. Minerva did not recognize her at first, but the tennis ball eyes widened. The house-elf wore a new blouse and a skirt. She stopped organizing things and fell into a curtsy. Minerva rushed over to her, blinking away the tears in her eyes.
"Libby." Minerva opened her arms and lifted the house-elf.
"Madam. Professor McGonagall." Libby wore pumps, expensive ones, and grinned as Minerva carried her back into the office. Her hands were hard, calloused, and her face got caked with bruises.
Draco Malfoy stood in the office. He stood apart from Harry Potter, and he had pulled on dress robes, muttering about the fallen gargoyle letting them in. Minerva waited, putting her spectacles back on. Draco acted defeated and out of place, like he expected to flee or be thrown off the magical premises. Draco laid an outfit, which might've been something for a child, in the chair.
"This is for you, Libby." Draco nodded to the house-elf and turning towards Minerva. He'd never liked Minerva, and the hate and confusion on his face said this, but he pulled an uninterested look. Minerva expected him and his family to be hiding in Malfoy Manor. "She said she was done and demanded my father let her go. He refused. So I let Libby go."
"Why?" Minerva shifted Libby in her arms.
"Shoes count as clothes, right?" Draco pretended Harry wasn't there. Harry, grinning, kicked off his shoes and pulled off his socks. He tossed these to Draco. "That's disgusting, Potter." Draco shuffled his feet.
"Give them to her." Harry demanded, glaring at him.
Draco tossed the socks to Libby. Libby, beaming at Harry, caught them and jumped down.
"Thank you," she said, smiling at Draco.
"You're as strange as Dobby," said Harry, taking the socks back when Libby offered them back.
Draco, not wishing to linger, set a pouch on the chair and turned to leave.
"Thank you, Mr. Malfoy, you are as kind as your grandfather," said Minerva quietly. Whatever Abraxas did in the past, however he'd wavered between right and wrong, she forgave him. Draco nodded and stopped, acting like he wished to say something. He said nothing, cleared his throat, and left.
"Libby knows Dobby. Libby … Libby gave birth to Dobby." Libby's ears wagged as she turned towards Harry. She seemed to see who she addressed and faltered. She pointed. Kingsley dozed in the corner. "You … you is Harry Potter."
"Yeah. You're Dobby's mum?" Harry got the flattery a lot, and Minerva understood he simply wanted to be Harry. Just Harry. Libby nodded. Harry spread his arms. "May I hug you?"
Libby, hesitant, fell into the hug and glanced around. She hadn't seen the other house-elf, Dobby, since she'd lost her other child back in 1982. "Where is Dobby?"
"Yeah, ma'am," said Harry, running a nervous hand through his untidy hair.
"Libby isn't a ma'am. Libby is Libby. Just Libby." Libby straightened Harry's Gryffindor tie.
Minerva scowled at Harry. Harry, hugging Libby again, shook his head perceptibly. Minerva sighed and paced circles again. It was not fair. Libby had waited years to leave Malfoy Manor.
"Where is Mr. Elphinstone?" Libby, expectant, moving slower than she used to, smiled as though she expected the old man to scoop her up.
"Who?" Harry, crestfallen, turned to Minerva.
"My husband." Minerva waved Harry's comment about not knowing she was married away.
"The Professor isn't wearing her ring." Libby checked Minerva's hand.
"You were married? Seriously?" Harry struggled to wrap his head around this concept.
"Yes, Mr. Potter. Seriously." Minerva turned to Libby. Harry told her Dobby had died at Malfoy Manor, and Libby, who had been there, wept like a child. Harry held her. Minerva, deciding it was not the time to give her another blow or shock, said nothing of Elphinstone.
"He's dead." Libby read something in Minerva's face and spoke matter-of-factly.
She'd recovered or she'd masked it because she took the bad days with the good. Libby switched to sign language, and expected nobody to answer. Hanging on the walls, Albus Dumbledore and Phineas Nigellus answered. While the first one didn't surprise Minerva, the occupant in the second portrait came out of nowhere.
"Hang on. You speak sign language?" Harry turned towards Phineas Nigellus.
"You stuck me in a beaded bag," sneered Phineas, stopping, although Dumbledore, entertained, continued the conversation. Phineas threw out an accusation. "Potter, have you returned my portrait to Grimmauld Place?"
Harry actually laughed. "You lied to me."
"You kidnapped me." Phineas played with his little beard and glared daggers at him.
"Hermione did. And you're dead," said Harry. He picked Libby up, attempting to slide in comfortably as a fast friend. "Kidnapping? It doesn't count."
Phineas leaned back in his chair and waved at Dumbledore. "Control your idiot. He stole from my house."
"My house." Harry pointed this out.
"Well, obviously Sirius had a serious lapse of judgment," said Phineas. Dumbledore, halting both conversations, cleaned his half-moon spectacles. Phineas turned to Minerva. "Your husband. An estates lawyer. Sound mind."
"Elphinstone Urquart is also dead," said Kingsley, caught between waking and sleeping. A serene smile touched his lips. He accepted a glass of water from Minerva with thanks. "The dead don't practice. That man slapped street smart on people and walked away without a scratch."
Libby spun around. "You knew Mr. Elphinstone?"
"Many people did, Libby," said Minerva softly.
"Five o'clock. Midnight in New York. Patti's here." Kingsley jumped to his feet when the emerald green flames flashed.
He rushed over and grabbed the hand of a little girl. Moments later, a woman dressed in a simple navy blue dress climbed out with a small dress concealed a bulge. Charlotte threw a tantrum, dragged out of bed at an early hour. Patti took the arm and pulled her over to the side for quick chat.
"No, Momma." Charlotte muttered, glancing at her father.
""You look at me! You shut it down." Patti took control of the situation before it got out of hand, and sighed when Charlotte nodded and rushed to greet her father. Patti poised, got to her feet, handed the baby to Kingsley, and said hello to the others.
"Miss Louis," said Professor Dumbledore warmly.
"Good morning, sir," she said. Patti, perfect in her delivery, must have had the cameras marking her every move. She showed Kingsley a copy of a paper. "Guess who's stalking the press secretary?"
Kingsley flashed a copy of the New York publication. On the front page, Patti, walked out of a store: the baby was in a pram and Charlotte walked alongside her. Patti wore a floral print, hung her hair loosely to avoid the cameras, but some hungry poparazzi gnawed at a bone. In the photograph, Patti shielded Charlotte and stepped out in cheap heels.
"They say you're a chunky single mother," said Kingsley, setting the paper aside. Kingsley threw the paper in the flames. "Patti. You are the press… politically. And you gave birth sixteen days days ago."
"Thank you. I've got it together." Patti ran her hands down her sides. "President Pewter would burn New York without me."
Dumbledore bowed his head respectively. "I read you're called the Phoenix."
Patti chuckled appreciatively and pointed at the old headmaster's portrait. "I like him. Communications director with style. That's what Kingsley says."
Kingsley smiled reassuringly.
"Patricia." Minerva shook her hand. Patricia actually sat down in a proper chair. Libby grabbed her clothes off the back of the chair. Patricia tucked one foot behind the other and rested her hands on a scratchpad. Minerva said hello to Charlotte. "Would you like something to drink?"
"Yes, ma'am," said Charlotte, wiping away nonexistent tears.
"Come on, Charlotte," said Harry, offering to take the child.
Kingsley kissed Patti. "You've got this?"
"Yeah. I've got it." Patti stepped away for a m0ment and stepped out of the office. She came back a while later after feeding the baby. She turned on her heel, staring at Minerva, getting down to business. "I'm your person for as long as you need me. We're honest. I weigh one hundred and fifty pounds."
Kingsley rolled his eyes. "New baby. It doesn't matter."
"Ha. Cute." Patricia laughed at this half-hearted line. She aired her dirty laundry for Minerva and nodded at sleeping Julia. "We made her in what others would call a one night stand if he wasn't my husband. At the Ritz."
"Fun night. Expensive bottle of Bordeaux." Kingsley fought a smile and cuddled with the baby. He added a bit about their first souvenir in the Red Rocks some six years ago. She was called Charlotte Louis Shacklebolt. Kingsley shrugged. "What?"
"Kingsley," said Patricia, blushing a little. "You see how straight we are with each other?"
"Julia's called Julia Louis Shacklebolt?" Minerva admired the straight up, no nonsense honesty and rather like putting everything on the table. Kingsley changed a nappy.
"They're American. A flaw." Kingsley ducked when Patti tossed a lovey, a stuffed rabbit, at him.
"You can lie to rest of the world. Not to me." Patricia read through her speech. Minerva agreed to these terms. "Have you ever conducted a press conference?"
"No." Minerva braided her hair with quick fingers. "Is this a problem?"
"See the black man over there?" Patti jerked her head towards Kingsley, who rocked the baby to sleep. Minerva softened. Kingsley, completely taken by his daughter, got drunk on the cuteness, lived in an oblivious state. "He's been asked to act as Minister for Magic. Kingsley?"
"She's like a miniature Charlotte," said Kingsley.
"Leader of the magical world, ladies and gentlemen." Patricia turned to Minerva. "What's your deep, dark secret?"
"I don't …" Minerva locked eyes with Libby. "I stole a house-elf. Oh, and I slept with a man before marriage … but we were married. Fifteen years later."
Patti, amused, locked eyes with Kingsley. "Professor, it's almost the twenty-first century."
Minerva's eyes narrowed. "I'm a reverend's daughter."
"Oh. That makes sense." Patti straightened. "There's no grey area for your father?"
"What's grey?" Minerva, pulling a straight face, answered her with a blank stare. "He's dead. Not that it matters. Elphinstone and I lived by a loose definition of friends. The way you handled Charlotte? Papa put us in our place, too."
"It matters to you." Patricia made a note. She nodded at Libby. "I've never met an enslaved elf. An elf outside of a store, Michael, covered me when I cried and my clothes revealed everything. Michael threw a soda at the cameraman."
"Oh, no." Kingley looked like he regretted burning the evidence.
"Yeah. Bad day." Patricia shook her head. Minerva nodded. "Whatever. And the chief of staff and a senator told me to keep it together. I sent them thank you cards. Because I'm me."
Kingsley shook his head and wagged a finger at his wife. "Miss Louis."
"I'm sorry. I've got me. I set the rules for that game. Try to keep up." Patti shared a laugh with Professor Dumbledore. "Minister's wife. Poor Kingsley."
"Yeah. Thank God." Kingsley kissed Julia. "My girls are perfect in my eyes."
"Michael says …" Patti stopped, nodding at Libby. She edited and kept her opinion to herself. "I'll tell you later."
"Deadbeat black father turned politician?" Kingsley threw out a guess and conjured an old-fashioned pram. Patti bit her lip. "Who pays for Charlotte's school and the violin lessons? You had no part in this."
"Kingsley." Patti rolled her eyes.
"Tell him I've never been to jail. If you'd needed me …" Kingsley shrugged. "Never leave me again."
Patti shrugged and turned towards Libby and Minerva. Patti let Minerva sleep until ten. She walked into her office on the first floor and brushed Minerva's long hair. She applied light makeup and ran through the talking points. Patti applied a shade of lipstick and helped the Professor with lotion. She'd twisted Minerva's hair into a knot at the base of her neck.
"You answer to nobody. Today's new day." Patti found a sapphire brooch. "Where did you get this?"
"My husband," she said.
"He's with you. I fell down when I was pregnant with Charlotte. Chasing the Colorado governor." Patricia fixed the brooch. "You want to know what Kingsley told me?"
"You fall down and you get back up. You decide when to give others power." Patricia checked her watch. "Where do we begin, Professor McGonagall?"