TIME FOR THOUGHT
Disclaimer: If only.
Summary: For the first time in a long time, Minerva has time for thought. Follows on from Time Beyond Meaning though does standalone. MM with a sprinkling of PP, FF, HS, RH and SS.
Minerva, tucking a pyjama clad leg beneath herself, settled on the cushioned seat and let the side of her forehead rest against the cool glass of the sash window. She absently swirled the deep red cabernet sauvignon in her glass as she perused the busy street beneath her, awash with tourists and performers even at this late hour.
Once, she had overheard a group of students discussing 'McGonagall Manor', an entirely fictional Gothic monstrosity somewhere in the Highlands where she apparently spent her summers. Why it was that her students were so convinced that, just because she was an undeniably proud Scot, that she must spent her holidays away from Hogwarts in another draftee castle she had no idea.
No, Minerva was an Edinburgh girl born and bred something that Severus claimed was entirely apparent not only in her accent but also in her buttoned up demeanour. There it was, that all too familiar twang that was all too common since The Battle.
Severus had claimed. He was no longer around to claim anything. She suppressed the urge to get up and move around, instead taking a deep drink from her glass and turning her attention back to the street below.
It had been years since she had been at 'home' for the Festival. At one stage she had revelled in the excitement of being at the centre of it all, had delighted in sharing the chance to soak in the atmosphere, and the opportunity to experience more varied theatre, music, comedy and art in one city in the space of a few weeks than anywhere else in the world with her friends and colleagues.
When her life had become increasingly more complicated however, when the situation in the Wizarding World had once again become darker, she seemed to have lost her appreciation for such things. Going to take a drink she noticed with some chagrin that she'd emptied the glass already.
'Go on, be a devil!' she heard Rolanda's voice as clear as day as she looked at the bottle sitting within arms reach on the hardwood floor. Pushing her protesting conscience to one side, she poured another healthy glass. After all she was supposed to be 'relaxing'.
Yes, Poppy and Filius, and Pomona, and even Horace for that matter had been really very specific about that. Closing her eyes she let her head fall back against the white wooden panelling, as she controlled the urge to submit the torrent of her own thoughts regarding the school and all the tasks that she had left uncompleted.
Instead, she thought upon her friends, her staff now also, and on how exactly she was going to spend the next week.
With less than a month until the school opened, she had been all but forcefully extricated from not only her office, but also the castle itself.
'Anyone would think you don't trust us, Minerva!' Slughorn had jested with her that afternoon, handing her this rather fine bottle of wine as she had been readying to leave.
'Not at all.' She had assured him, quite honestly. It really wasn't that she didn't trust them; they were all more than competent and had proved that time and again over the last few months.
'There is nothing that needs to happen in the next seven days that we can't deal with or won't wait till you come back.' Filius had tried to reassure her.
'And besides, we will all benefit from a rested and recuperated Head when the term starts back.' Poppy had pointed out, not for the first time.
'Recuperated from what exactly?" she had asked, raising an eyebrow.
'From two months of high stress, 18 hour days and 7 day weeks.' The medi-witch had countered seriously. 'I've been telling you for weeks that you need to slow down and take a break.' Her friend continued.
'I've not been working any harder than anyone else.' Minerva had countered.
'Debatable.' Filius had murmured.
'And yet, we've all taken afternoons, days and wait for it – even weeks off.' Poppy had continued.
She had wanted to argue that, they had all taken time to spend with family and friends far from the castle, where she really had no-one left outside their close-knit group.
There was nothing self-depreciating or morose in that acknowledgment, just the truth of the matter. She had many acquaintances and casual friends throughout the British Isles and beyond, both magical and Muggle, but she had spent 48 weeks a year for the last 40 years in a Boarding School and what spare time she had had, had been primarily taken up with the administration of a pseudo secret organisation.
At least that was one task that seemed to have slipped off her plate for the time being, she thought idly, draining her glass again. As she was refilling it, there was a discernable swell in the commotion outside and when she sat back up, she turned her attention back to the outside world. A fire-eater was plying his trade on one of the designated stages, arcs of flame reaching up from his mouth and up into almost dark sky.
There was something mystical about the summer sky in Scotland. Although the sun would officially set at about 9 each night and not rise again until after five in the morning it never seemed to be truly dark apart from a few hours between about 2 and 4am.
The man blew another arc high above the crowd to a series of wondering 'ooh's and 'aah's and Minerva wondered with an amused twitch of her mouth, whether this particular fire-eater had a magical aid to prevent him from damaging himself. She thought not, but she couldn't be sure and didn't really care either way for the time being.
Feeling the effects of the undeniably good wine, she allowed her head to roll around and her gaze to fall on the inside of her living room. There was nothing strikingly magical about it, in fact very few of her possessions in the flat were magical in any way, it helped when you lived surrounded by Muggles in the middle of a Muggle city to be able to pass off as one at a moments notice.
It was almost like a haven, an oasis of normality not even connected to the floo system. For the first time ever, she had considered changing that fact this morning, but she had managed to resist. She doubted she would have successfully managed to connect to Hogwarts in any case, her friends knew her better than that she suspected.
She more than suspected really, she thought, as she swung her legs back down to the floor and standing from her perch on the window seat, wondered back across the room and towards her favourite armchair. The traditionalist in her would like to have believed that Horace, as Head of Slytherin must have been behind what had transpired a month ago. However, she strongly suspected that it had in fact been Filius who had 'accidentally stumbled upon' the time turner that had been sitting at the back of her mind and tucked away safely in Albus' office.
The Ravenclaw hadn't mentioned it at all however, until producing it during one of their meetings with Kingsley Shakelbolt. He had made some comment about the Minister, returning it to it's rightful home at the Ministry where it would be 'out of temptations way.' Whose temptation remained unsaid, but he needed not to say it aloud for Minerva to understand what it was he was saying. She knew the dangers of time turners, knew why their use was so heavily regulated and yet she still felt a flare of anguish as she had seen it slip from her grasp. There was just so much to do and so little time in which to do with it.
After weeks and weeks of hard work, the castle itself was pretty much ready for the start of a new and undoubtedly challenging term. The Staff was more or less in place as well; she had four Heads of House, even if one of them couldn't currently get into his own houses common room. She couldn't help but smile at Hagrid's bumbling enthusiasm for his new position but there was no denying that he would need a heavy guiding hand over the coming months.
That didn't worry her though, no, Hagrid had a heart of gold and more than enough compassion to make him in many ways a better Head of House than she had been. What was really worrying her though, was the complete lack of a reasonable candidate for Professor of Transfiguration.
At first she had simply thought that she was perhaps being too exacting in her demands, was reluctant to let go of her former position and so, she had put the task of finding her replacement in her Deputy's hands. Filius, she had no doubt, had been working diligently on the problem but they were still no closer to coming up with even a vaguely acceptable candidate.
The problem was that there was a huge demand for Masters of Transfiguration at a time when it seemed that the whole of the Wizarding world seemed to be rebuilding and re-working itself for a 'fresh new start'. There was still prestige in being appointed a Professor in the 'sacred and hallowed halls' of Hogwarts, but there wasn't a huge amount of money to be made in teaching, no-matter how revered the school.
Apart from that, there were two other factors that she felt may be hindering their search; the first was that those who completed their Masters in Transfiguration were often of such an academic bent that they lacked either the common sense or the desire to teach the basics of their subject, especially to those who may have no real aptitude for it. The second was perhaps slightly egotistical and only made it onto the conscious list as Filius had brought it up; he was of the opinion that the reputations of the two previous holders of the position were proving something of a deterrent to prospective applicants.
However, whatever the reasons behind it – the post had yet to be filled and so, when the term started back up, she was still going to be teaching as well as everything else.
'Not even Albus was crazy enough to take that on Minerva.' Poppy had warned when she had first voiced this stopgap measure.
'And my extracurricular commitments are virtually nonexistent compared with his.' She had countered then, and now she merely snorted into her wine glass. She had yet to inform the medi-witch that she had been invited onto the Wizengamot in a fashion that she knew she could not really refuse.
She was fairly certain that being the Headmistress should not have resulted in her feeling like she had employed a staff full of nannies for herself. Ever since, well ever since she seemed to have become de facto Headmistress during that post-battle madness, there seemed to have been an unnatural number of the staff mollycoddling her. Well, here at least she would be left at peace to her own endeavours.
Standing again, Minerva took her glass over to the full height bookcases where she kept all of her Muggle literature. She had always loved to read, anything and everything that came her way. Albus had loved to tease her that he was certain she was the only Deputy in Hogwarts long history ever to have read all the known records of meetings of the schools board and the International statute of Wizarding Education from back to front.
In the last months she'd had virtually no time to read for pleasure at all but still, tonight, nothing was striking a spark of interest or drawing her to pull it from the shelf. Probably the wine, she thought languidly. As she turned towards the rosewood Grand that sat in the corner.
There was music sitting on the stand, which was unusual, but as she got closer she suddenly remembered why it was there. She had often suggested to Severus that he would like to visit her during the Festival, as she was certain he would appreciate the 'official' Festival if not the Fringe that she could still hear going on outside.
And then, two years ago, the summer after the fiasco at the ministry, he had appeared one night on her doorstep holding two tickets for that evening's performance of Madame Butterfly.
Minerva had enjoyed the performance immensely, and from what she could gather, so had Severus. He had certainly been on good form when they had returned and while she poured two healthy gin and tonics, he had called through, asking if she would mind if he looked through her piano stool. By the time she had returned to the room, he was seated at the keyboard and stretching his fingers.
With a flick of her hand, Minerva activated the dormant silencing charms and as though she had flicked a switch the sound from outside vanished. The silence that was left seemed somehow deeper than was normal. Placing her empty glass on the coaster sitting on the right hand side of the music stand, she settled herself on the embroidered cushion and laid her hands on her lap.
Several moments passed while she simply stared at the notes before her. Blinking, she reached out her hand, only to almost miss the speeding bottle that she wordlessly summoned to her. She tipped the last of the wine into the glass and promptly downed the majority of it in one fell swoop.
The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba; A Duet for to Two Pianists by G. F. Handel
As a child she had been taught to play, as many magical children were, and she had, at one stage in her life been rather good at it. There were several rooms within the castle set aside for music practise but with Umbridge and everything else that had gone on that year she'd barely played a note.
Now, she rested her hands over the starting notes of the upper part, and she could almost feel the presence of Severus next to her. They had played for hours that night, until it really was dark outside. Four hands working together in unison, quite startling their similarity as long fingers with carefully kept nails, elegant yet obviously capable, danced across the keyboard.
She had noted to herself then, that the restrained Slytherin seemed much more expressive at the seat of a piano, where he was not required to use words, only impart his feeling through his touch on the keys. She felt that she had seen much more of the true Severus in those hours than she had done in the years previously. Soon enough however, their competitive natures came to the fore and the competed to see who could finish the semi-quaver runs first.
It had been a good night. One she had thought back on often in the intervening years, and yet now, as she sat, her fingers resting on those self-same keys, it seemed even more poignant yet. Her fingers began to shake, and she curled them into fists only to relay them upon the keys a moment later.
Beginning to play, she let her fingers flow over the keys as though the tune were coming from her very soul. The tears coursing down her cheeks barely registered and she continued to play despite them, faster and faster until her fingers fell over each other in the final run. She stood so quickly that she knocked the piano stool clean over and sent its contents spilling across the floor. She stumbled away from the piano, hand clasped to her mouth, as though, if she could just hold her anguish in it would somehow all be better.
She collapsed forward onto the window seat, her forehead leaning against the pane as her shuddering breathes condensed against the glass. She fought for control, knowing that if she lost that would be it. She shouldn't have drunk the wine. And with that thought she had another insight into the very careful handling she had been subject to all summer.
After the incident following The Battle, where Poppy had confined her to bed for over a day, the medi-witch had tried to get her to talk. Minerva loved Poppy dearly, knew no-one so devoted to their work and yet she just couldn't do what she asked. She just couldn't bring herself to do it, especially now.
She did not feel ashamed exactly at her, for lack of a better word, breakdown. She was disappointed that she had let the situation go so far, knowing that if she had taken herself off somewhere on the premise of sleep then she could have had her melt down in private, could have saved the commotion and the stress she had caused. And that was the crux of it really. Now more than ever, she needed to appear strong, confident and in control to the world around her. Needed to provide the school with a rock upon which it could rebuild itself.
Here though, on her own in the unnatural silence, with the ghosts of the past so heavy in the air, Minerva found herself unable to pull herself from the downward spiral on which she had begun. She wrapped her arms around her, pulling her legs up close, as though she were a child, and wept. She wept for her friends, her students, for those who had died and those who had survived, for those who had knowingly given themselves and those who had been dragged into this war forcibly. Long after she had run out of tears, after the silenced crowds had disappeared from the street and the sky really had become dark, she sat huddled by her window on the world.
She only had a vague awareness of eventually moving, stumbling half-blind, down the hall and falling into bed, but woke there none the less. Even before she opened her eyes, she could feel the well-deserved hangover, it took her longer however to pinpoint exactly what else it was bar the headache that was different. It wasn't until she was brushing her teeth, that it dawned on her, and looking up into the mirrored bathroom cabinet she stopped mid-brush.
That all-consuming pain, the anguish that she had worked so hard to repress over the previous weeks and months, though not gone, seemed to have become somehow more bearable. An ache that could be acknowledged, accepted and lived with. She almost snorted at herself it was so ridiculous, but the difference was so culpable that she almost felt as though someone had just cut the tether attaching her to a two tonne weight that she had been dragging around.
Shaking her head, she rinsed her mouth out and opened the cabinet in search of something to banish her headache. There, sitting on the bottom shelf, was a potion bottle, it's label handwritten in a familiar scrawl.
To my gracious host,
On mornings such as this I would normally suggest a healthy dose of hair of the dog, however I believe we may have drunk your store dry last night, and so, you shall have to trust to my brewing.
Apologies for my unexpectedly early departure,
And she smiled. She had always been mildly amused that Severus had managed to let himself out while she was asleep and she had been none the wiser but she had not been surprised to find him gone the next morning. As for how she had missed the bottle then, well that was simple enough, Severus had not been the only one summoned that morning. Fawkes had woken her that morning with a missive from Albus asking if she would mind terribly returning to the castle a few days early as he had to leave and someone needed to be there. Naturally she had gone. Sometimes, she really did wonder what it was exactly she had seen in that man.
Rolling her eyes to herself, she went through to the kitchen and poured herself another cup of tea and taking it back through to the living room her gaze settled on the music strewn across the floor. There was a moment of melancholy, but it did not last long, as she placed her cup on a bookshelf and knelt to gather in the sheets.
The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba had also been dislodged as she found it half hidden beneath the piano. Closing it gently, she stroked the cover fondly before turning decisively and placing with the other books inside the piano stool. Shutting the cover, she sat back down and setting her hand son the keys began to play. Scales this time, back and forth, shifting keys every time she reached the bottom of the set. It was an old habit, one she used before school exams or just when she had a problem that she wanted to work through.
Time seemed to be suspended as she seemed to think a thousand thoughts, and none, all at once as the repetitive motion served to sooth and inspire. Before she knew it, the afternoon sun was pouring through the window. Closing the lid of the piano, she pushed back the stool, stood and looked towards the window. It was going to be a fine day, she decided, perfect for a stroll through the capital's bustling streets, lunch in the Gardens and then maybe a show of some sort. Not until she was closing the stair door behind her and heading out into the throng did she recall what Poppy had said to her as she left
'Just you see Minerva, give it a day and you'll wonder how it is you've managed these past months.
It wasn't quite true. She knew how she had done it and even why she had done it but none the less, her friend was entirely accurate in sentiment. It was amazing the difference a few hours away from the school and her responsibilities had made, the trick now though, she thought to herself, was to remember how this felt.
A/N: Ok, so I admit quite freely that this fic is really just me pandering to the Edinburger in me that and the pianist. My sister and I play The Arrival and over Christmas at home with my folks I was reminded of how cathartic a couple of hours piano practice can be.
You can find a multitude of versions of The Arrival on youtube - just let me know if you're particularly interested and I can give you a nudge in the direction of some of my favourites.
I hope you've enjoyed this as much as I enjoyed writing it. Either way I always want to hear from you.