Disclaimer: This is Jo Rowling's world. We just live in it.
A/N Gift of the Magi is dedicated to the wonderful and wicked fanfiction writers from whom I have lifted the funny parts.
Summer Solstice, 1998
The marble staircase in the entrance hall is swarming with men wearing shirts that say Mumford's Magical Masonry and Gargoyle Repair. At the foot of the spiral staircase that will lead him to Headmistress McGonagall, Harry finds one of the workers seated on a block of unhewn stone, notepad in hand, compassionately concentrating on the wreckage of the statue that once guarded the door. Harry slips past unseen as he hears the Griffin saying, "I stood my post as well as anyone, I did. Took a bloody explosion to dislodge me, didn't it? And next thing I know there's the big HERO stepping through my bits and pieces, not a word of acknowledgement for my sacrifice…," The voice fades as Harry climbs the unmoving steps.
As he stands upon the landing, he hears muffled, angry voices from beyond the wooden door. He knocks. McGonagall opens the door, sees nothing, and says, "Come in, Harry."
He is Harry now. She is still Professor. He hasn't yet worked up the courage to try out Minerva.
The office and private quarters beyond are furnished with little except packed crates tied up with tartan ribbons. The Headmistress herself sits down on a low purple sofa. She gazes out the narrow tower window at something Harry cannot see.
Usually, Minerva McGonagall inhabits that soft-focus land that lies somewhere between fifty and death. Today, her age is clear. Harry wonders if the extended middle age of witches and wizards isn't mostly some kind of a glamour connected to energy and mood. That would explain all those fairy stories he read as a child where beautiful, powerful sirens reveal themselves to be ugly old crones. Although, if Minerva McGonagall is a crone, she is one of the prettiest Harry has ever encountered. The realization shocks him.
"What progress down there?" She asks, still looking out the window. Harry knows that she has accepted the post of interim headmistress grudgingly. With all her heart, she wants to retire. Privately, he sees her point. She's given enough. They all have. It is possible, Harry well knows, to give one's life for a cause and still remain among the living. But Minerva McGonagall is a creature as devoted to duty as Harry himself. She stays where she is needed and he stays where there is productive work to be done.
Besides which, the thought of going off on holiday just makes him feel tired. And there is so much that is broken. At least McGonagall seems genuinely grateful for his company.
His head pops out of the invisibility cloak. "Early stages of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The workman says actual reconstruction might begin as early as next week."
McGonagall laughs mirthlessly and there is a shrill edge to her voice when she says, "Which means next month?"
Nodding, Harry agrees.
"And how are you?" She asks. As the rest of his body emerges from the cloak, she peers at him over the top of square spectacles. He tries to shrug indifferently, but can't quite suppress a shy grin. He kind of likes it when she looks at him like that. All at once, in this context, he realizes that the expression he so treasures from his professor is exactly the same one he always found so discomfiting on Headmaster Dumbledore.
"You looked just like him. Just now," he says, gesturing toward Dumbledore's portrait on the wall behind McGonagall's neat desk.
She raises an eyebrow.
"But infinitely more alluring!" Dumbledore's portrait interjects.
"Right," Harry deadpans, "What he said."
"And how are you?" She repeats more pointedly.
"Actually," he says, and takes a seat beside her. His jeans and t-shirt seem inexcusably shabby compared to her crisp green work robes. He's not entirely sure what to do with his arms and legs. Only one week into this new adult relationship with the world, he hasn't quite got the knack of it. She waits with an expression of affectionate interest.
He clears his throat and begins again, "Actually, I've been doing some arithmetic."
"Yes. I've done the sums. One botched transfiguration per week times an average of twelve students per form times seven forms times four houses times thirty-five weeks in a school year times approximately forty-three years of teaching comes out to just over half a million messes to be cleaned up. Half a bloody million, Professor. How do you put right more than half a million broken bits?"
"Oh, my," she says, "You make it sound so overwhelming! It isn't half a million. It's only one. One at a time, you see, and oh I suppose you think you're dead clever right now, don't you?"
He blushes. "Depends. Are you feeling less overwhelmed?"
"I know I am," Dumbledore's portrait cheerfully volunteers.
"Nobody asked you, you old nutter," she shoots back.
Blood rushes to Harry's face so furiously, he's surprised that the tips of his ears don't explode. Dumbledore's portrait is chuckling, Professor McGonagall is scowling, the other headmasters are whistling or feigning interest in the details of their frames and Harry is wondering how adult conversations with his former authority figures have come to so closely resemble all those adolescent conversations with Ron and Hermione.
"Truthfully, Harry, I don't feel overwhelmed so much as underprepared. Believe it or not, it is as difficult for me to adjust to being Hogwarts' ultimate authority as it must be for you to being my--don't faint--friend. I keep asking myself if I am up to this challenge. You must be asking yourself the same question right now. Or have your ears turned purple for some other reason?"
"Beet Curse," Harry asserts. And because now seems like a good time, he reaches into his pants pocket and pulls out the yellowed piece of parchment that is the reason for his visit. "I've brought you a gift. I think it might help."
She takes the folded paper from his hands and examines it. It smells of footlocker and boy, Harry notices. McGonagall unties the ribbon and her eyes go wide.
Greetings, Professor McGorgeousGal writes itself in untidy script across the page.
Groan appears next, in a smaller, neater hand. There's something familiar about the printing.
That's the best you can do, Pads? Scrawls itself in a margin. Aha. That's his father's writing. He'd wager his wand on it.
The untidy script appears again. It says Quite right. That was bad. Very bad. I probably deserve to be spanked.
Me, too shows up in a new hand.
I'm in! appears in Remus Lupin's neat lettering.
But one at a time, right? James again.
Minerva refolds the paper and looks at Harry, whose gaze is suddenly riveted on the window. He is calculating his chances of surviving the fall when she says, "I am to be assisted by this--this--posthumous mash note?"
"Touch it with your wand," Harry uses a finger to demonstrate, "And say, 'I solemnly swear I am up to no good'."
She takes her wand from her robes, notes the fading light in the room and uses an incendio charm to light some candles. Then, eyes narrowed and lips pursed, she touches wand to parchment and says, "I solemnly swear I am up to no good," in the high, brittle brogue that Harry now recognizes as her best professional register.
The Marauder's Map opens and reveals itself to her. She looks at Harry, looks at the map, looks at Harry again, opens her mouth to say something, thinks better of it and closes her mouth again.
Harry's grin threatens to swallow the bottom half of his face. "Brilliant, eh?"
She uses lumos and her wand to examine the map more closely. Harry has the feeling that she's gathering much more information from it than he ever did as she prods it and murmurs softly to herself. Harry sees the usual images shift each time she touches a certain area. Apparently, the Map has levels and secrets it never revealed to him. Finally, when she is satisfied in her preliminary examination, she places the map gently in her lap and regards Harry thoughtfully.
"Where did you get this?" She asks.
"I'm not at liberty to say," He replies.
"And where did Fred and George Weasley get it?" She continues, no trace of their new egalitarian relationship now in evidence.
"Erm, I'm not sure," Harry answers honestly. He wonders how she can speak that name without feeling a hammer at her heart.
She traces the magical lettering with her fingertips. "Oh, my Idiots," she whispers in a voice so gentle it almost makes Harry jump. Then, accusingly, she adds, "This explains a very great deal." She nods, pressing long fingers to her forehead as she speaks in a voice gone suddenly husky, "And it is going to be of incalculable assistance. Thank you."
"I was thinking that a reputation for omniscience might not hurt with the workmen. Plus, if you pay attention, you can see that the Madame Hooch dot and the Madame Pomfrey dot spend every night right on top of each other," Harry presses on in the afterglow of his success.
She removes her hand from in front of her eyes and fixes him with a glare that could shrivel the gonads of a basilisk.
Harry's hand strays toward the invisibility cloak.
Fortunately, the house elves choose that moment to arrive with refreshments. There's butterbeer and biscuits and tea, with some bits of sardines with lettuce and mustard on crackers. Clearly, even the house elves are making do.
Eschewing the lettuce and crackers, McGonagall springs to her feet and opens one of the ribbon-bound packing boxes. "I have a gift for you, too," she says. From the box, she pulls a small crystal glass and a dusty bottle of amber liquid. With a bit of wandless magic, the top comes off the bottle and she pours three fingers into the glass.
"I—um—thanks—but I—I don't really drink."
She turns to face him, lowering her head and once again peering at him over the rim of her square glasses. "Boy, I wouldn't share my Macallan with you if you were William Wallace in woad. Slainte!" she says, downs the scotch in one gulp and pours herself another. Then she sits down next to Harry, pulls her wand and says, "Accio, lines!"
A sheaf of parchment flies from the opened crate and flutters over to the couch. Harry, curious, moves closer to her while she sips her scotch, sucks a low, whistling breath through her teeth and sips more scotch.
"This, Harry, is my private collection. It is a list of some of the more—interesting—lines I've assigned to students in my career as a teacher." After topping off her drink, she leans back into the plush sofa and begins to read:
"I am not authorised to sell nude pictures of the faculty to students. Giving them out for free is also frowned upon.
I will not go to class skyclad.
Writing sexy love letters to Professor Dumbledore, signed by 'Your Kitten' is not an ethical means of skipping Transfiguration class, no matter how effective it may prove.
'Professor Sinistra, will you show me Uranus?' is a prohibited phrase."
She stops and glares at the collected portraits until the snickering dies down.
"I am not permitted to ask Professor Flitwick where Snow White is.
The length of Professor Dumbledore's beard is not compensating for anything.
'Not enough room to swing a cat in here' is a Muggle saying, not a testable hypothesis.
It is a bad idea to tell Professor McGonagall that she takes herself too seriously."
She pauses, surprised by the soft thump of Harry's bottom as it slides off the sofa and hits the floor.
"Are you quite well?" She asks.
Harry can only snort an astonished, "I—I think so."
"Shall I continue, then?"
"Be my guest," he waves her on with one hand.
"Let's see—ah! Mad Eye Moody is not related to One Eyed Willy.
Under no circumstance will I greet Professor McGonagall by inquiring, 'What's new, pussycat?'
Neither is 'What ho, Lawn Ornament!' a proper greeting for Professor Flitwick.
I will not start every Potions class by asking if today's project is suitable for use as a sexual lubricant.
I will not refer to Professor McGonagall as Catwoman, no matter how good I think she might look in black leather. Do remember to breathe, Harry."
"Good. Argus Filch does not have a sister named Magenta.
Despite the fact that it takes place in a dungeon, I may not safeword my way out of Potions class.
Albus Dumbledore is not my personal Jesus."
"There has been talk of a resemblance," interrupts Dumbledore's portrait.
"Sod off, Albus. The average landspeed of an unladen swallow is not relevent to my Arithmancy assignment.
When being interrogated by a member of staff, I am not to wave my hand and announce 'These are not the droids you are looking for.'
I cannot attempt to recreate the Key to Time in Transfiguration class. Or transform a pepperpot into a Dalek.
Sending rings to the nine senior faculty at Yuletide, with the salutation, 'Love, Voldemort' is not funny."
At this point, Harry decides to remain on the floor, primarily because he is laughing so hard that his whole face aches and he is unable to control his legs.
"If Remus Lupin requests something of me, it is very rude to refuse by replying, 'Not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin!'
Severus Snape's proper given name is not Princess Silvermoon Fairywing GlimmerMcSparkles. I will not convince three of the school ghosts to visit Severus Snape on Christmas Eve. And even if Severus Snape had flying monkeys, he would not let me touch them.
The proper way to report to Professor McGonagall is 'You wanted to see me, Professor?' It is not, 'I have it on good authority that you have no evidence.'"
Harry wonders--as he lies on the surprisingly comfortable rug, as he grins at the painted headmasters' efforts to remain seated and dignified within their frames--whether anyone has thought to commission a portrait of Snape.
"My name is not Inigo Montoya. Professor Snape did not kill my father, nor must he prepare to die."
"Scratch that!" Guffaws Dilys Derwent. Professor McGonagall ignores the comment, sips her scotch and soldiers on.
"I will not trick Professor Trelawney into calling The Psychic Hotline; not even if I tape the conversation for Professor McGonagall; not even if Professor McGonagall laughs."
Spent, Harry musters a feeble croak for, "I must never again substitute weapons grade plutonium for any ingredient in potions class."
As she finishes, McGonagall meets his green eyes with her own blue-grey ones. Did he ever think them beady? They are enormous and fierce with laughter. Ginny has eyes like that. He wonders if Ginny will grow up to be like Professor McGonagall.
A smile plays at the corners of her lips as they sit for a few moments in quiet, happy company. He hasn't felt this good in months.
No, he hasn't felt this good—this relaxed, this safe, this optimistic—in years. As he closes his eyes and listens to Minerva McGonagall move about the room in a sudden fit of unpacking, he knows for the first time in his life that someday, all will be well.