Minerva McGonagall had never been less inclined to Apparate to Hogsmeade, although her ramrod-straight bearing would never have betrayed her reluctance to set out that clear spring morning. Her stride was slower than it might have been five years or even five days ago, but she kept her gaze straight ahead, placing her feet one after the other in resolute succession as she entered the village. Stopping even for a moment, she suspected, would bring to mind losses she almost couldn't bear to dwell on any longer.
Minerva knew she could have just as easily requested that this package be owled to her at Hogwarts; it seemed such a minute thing with which to trouble oneself. As the new Headmistress, she had worries and responsibilities enough. But an action like that seemed coldly efficient, impersonal, and her predecessor had never lived his life in such a manner. Determined, she set onto the High Street, continuing until she reached Gladrags Wizardwear.
Pausing at the door of the establishment, she dabbed at her forehead with a handkerchief and let her eyes run over the window displays. Satins flashed, baubles glistened, and at once Minerva felt a surge of irrational annoyance toward the shop, its glittering fripperies, and the callous tinkle of the bell that rang as a patron exited. Surely they knew there were more important things to life.
And surely this feeling has nothing to do with the fact that Albus always enjoyed these things.
She closed her eyes for a moment, schooling her face back into its habitual stern lines, and then stepped inside herself. No more than a few seconds passed before she heard her name called. "Professor McGonagall!" a woman in grey silk robes exclaimed as she advanced forward, giving a look of buoyant welcome that never quite reached her eyes. "A pleasure to see you. I have your parcel ready – allow me fetch it from the back."
"Thank you," Minerva replied with a dignified nod. Always a nice young woman, Abigail Loomis. Hufflepuff. "I am sorry to have made the request on such…short notice." Her sense of fairness also gave her another sharp poke at the realization that she had given the woman precious little to go on in her instructions.
The traces of cheer on the seamstress's face now disappeared completely. "It hasn't been a problem, truly," she said in a quiet voice. "I was glad that I could give something to him."
"I also apologize for not giving you more particulars," Minerva added stiffly, glancing around the elegant showroom. "This was always much more in Albus's line than mine."
A small, fleeting smile crossed Miss Loomis's face as she turned to go. "He did have excellent taste, didn't he?"
The seamstress was only gone a moment before bringing back a surprisingly large, gilded box, which she placed on a countertop. Minerva found herself giving it a curious stare, until the simple answer hit. Yes, Albus is tall. Was tall.
Wordlessly, Miss Loomis pulled back the lid to reveal the soft, rich folds of a deep purple velvet. Without thinking, Minerva took a step forward to touch the fabric, dragging her fingers across it, watching the light play across the thick nap. A myriad of golden stars – large and small, simple and ornate – gleamed across its lush surface. So ridiculous, this flamboyant, gaudy purple, and yet…fitting. Minerva felt her heart constrict into an iron weight in her chest, remembering the sight of an auburn-haired man who had sat on the edge of his desk and clapped enthusiastically when she first Transfigured soap into sherbert lemons.
"I thought he would have liked it," Miss Loomis said, still quiet, as she reached out her own hand to stroke the velvet. "But if you think it unsuitable, I can make up something else."
Minerva cleared her throat with a brisk cough. "No, no, this will do quite well. Thank you." She had started to move back to allow the seamstress to replace the lid, when the odd appearance of the woman's fingertips caught her eye. Crossed with innumerable fine red lines and pinpricks, they looked chafed, sore.
"Miss Loomis, your hands?"
A flush crossed the woman's cheeks. "Gold thread is rough sometimes; it's to be expected," she said simply.
"But surely you know spells to protect them?" Minerva asked in surprise, her voice sounding brusquer than she intended. She didn't know why it mattered to her, other than she hated to see more unnecessary suffering.
Miss Loomis set down the lid and slowly traced a finger around a star before replying.
"I do. But the work doesn't mean as much…that way." She looked up at that, surprising Minerva with a keen look that glinted briefly in her eyes before she resumed wrapping the box. Minerva watched her work with an impassive face, but her mind whirred.
"Albus always spoke most highly of you," she said as the seamstress tied the final bow.
Miss Loomis turned her face away, pressing her lips together as though to stifle a choke of emotion. "I'm glad to hear that," she said after a few seconds. "He was always very - very kind to me." She paused, and then gave a weak laugh. "But I mustn't keep you any longer. Please let me know if I may be of help again, Professor McGonagall."
"Thank you," Minerva replied, allowing her mouth to relax into a kind smile. "Thank you, I shall."
A/N: Goodbye, Albus.