A/N: Written for tmcotter's Officially Unofficial Don Juan de Neville Fest. Thanks to Miss Elisha for the beta!
For days now the students had noticed an odd sort of noise echoing faintly through the corridors of Hogwarts. It couldn't be heard over the general rush of changing classes; only those who happened to be wandering quietly on the odd errand caught anything out of the ordinary.
The House prefects especially began complaining, because nothing was more eerie than patrolling in the evening when no one should have been around, only to be stopped in one's tracks by low murmurs and faerie-light giggles just around the corner. As soon as one arrived at the spot where it seemed like the sounds had come from, though, everything was still. Not even the portraits seemed to know.
After a dozen such instances had been reported, McGonagall had had enough. Odd noises around the school were nothing new, but this seemed more out of place than usual, and goodness knew that the teachers couldn't afford to ignore possible threats these days. Although, the stories from the students didn't make the phenomena sound malignant, so much as mischievous.
Peeves was of course the first to be questioned.
When that turned up nothing but a mess on the floor, robes spattered with ink and mad cackling filtering back down the hallway from where he'd flown off, McGonagall irritably tried the House ghosts. The only one who looked as though he might know something was the Bloody Baron, judging from the slightly upturned corners of his mouth, but he simply informed her that so far as he knew, there was nothing wandering through Hogwarts that posed a danger to the students.
Filch and Mrs. Norris were ordered to keep an ear out, and in fact it was Mrs. Norris who eventually led her owner to the source. Minerva was in her office grading papers when he knocked at her door.
"'Scuse me, Professor, but...I think we've found him."
"Him?" she stared, noting with disapproval the deep blush on the caretaker's face, and the awkward shifting of his feet. "Who are you talking about?"
"The one who's been making all the trouble in the corridors. He's...well, you best just come and look for yourself, I think, ma'am."
Mystified, she followed him through the school, up to the sixth floor to a little used corner. As they approached, Filch signaled her to be quiet, and her ears caught the elusive noises they had been trying to track down. Tinkling laughter, the lower rumble of a man's voice, barely audible, and...squealing?
A high-pitched voice cried, "Oooh, Alhhard!"
"It's my turn next!" The pout in that voice was evident even if the speaker wasn't in view.
"Now, lasses, there's plenty to go around, don't crowd!"
McGonagall was outraged. What in the world was going on? Brushing away Filch's warning hand, she stalked around the corner only to be confronted with...empty space.
"Show yourself," she ordered sternly, turning in place, wandtip lit to illuminate the surrounding area. A movement to her right sent her spinning toward a painting on the wall. It was empty as well.
Well, not quite empty. There was a good deal of strange looking metal pieces scattered about the foreground of the quaint pastoral scene, which, after some deliberation, the old Professor recognized as plate mail armour. And there, in a tree, crimson against the green of the leaves, there was a piece of clothing caught in the branches, a...lady's gown? There was another jewel-bright splash of colour from a second dress thrown haphazardly across a wooden fence. And another, this one daffodil yellow, below a berry bush. The puzzle pieces fell into place.
"This is..." No need to say it, it was altogether too clear what it was. But where were the portraits themselves? "This is simply unacceptable," she snapped at the wall. "I know you're there, come out and stop this foolishness."
An eye and a bit of disheveled hair slowly peeped out from behind a tree. "Erm...milady, methinks I cannot just step out from here. I'm not properly...err..."
"You didn't seem to mind that a moment ago, from the sound of things. Now unless you want me to summon the Headmaster, show yourself!"
He complied, slowly, and she found herself confronting a portrait she knew well, though never...like this. "Sir Cadogan?"
She made a valiant effort to keep her eyes in one place, but as he moved fully into view, her gaze was drawn away from his face. Oh my...
"What...what is the meaning of this?" she demanded, feeling a rush of blood staining her cheeks while she silently damned Filch for not warning her what would be found here.
"Just a harmless bit of frivolity," Sir Cadogan muttered, hurriedly gathering up his breeches and throwing them on, though not quickly enough to hide those physical attributes that had undoubtedly drawn three - no, four, there was another gown behind him in the shadow of the tree - other portrait ladies to engage in...
"Harmless frivolity? There are impressionable students wandering around this school!"
"Now, milady, we were always quite careful-"
"Careful? I've been getting reports for weeks about you and your...debaucheries! This must stop, do you understand me?"
"Stop altogether?" he stared at her in dismay. "But...but...a man of my nature needs-"
"Oh, shut up," she cut him off. "Don't hide behind that excuse. Make yourself decent, make sure the other portraits do as well, and you and I will talk more about this later."
"Later, madam?" he asked, confusion evident in face and tone.
Her jaw set grimly and she fixed him with a look that had never yet failed to cow even the most rebellious of students. "Yes. Later."
She turned without another word and stalked back to where Filch had been trying to fade into the background. "Come with me," she ordered and marched wordlessly back down to her office.
Once there, she stood for a long moment, regarding the wall opposite her desk with a thoughtful eye. Without turning, she murmured to Filch, "Go and see that Sir Cadogan's portrait is taken down and hung, oh, there," she pointed to a space currently occupied by a few framed paintings. "I'll put those somewhere else."
"Ma'am? You want it moved?"
"I don't trust him to behave himself. I'll keep an eye on him myself from now on."
Filch's eyebrows contracted, but other than the frown he offered no objection. "Yes, Professor, right away," and he hurried out the door.
Minerva sat back down at her desk with a small sigh and picked up a quill. Anyone walking into her office just then would have found her peacefully grading papers, though the more observant might have wondered at the curious smile playing across her lips and the odd, eager gleam of her eyes.
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