Written for the 2009 Femgenfication at LJ
My thanks to my excellent beta readers, The Real Snape and Moira of the Mountain.
- / - / -
By Kelly Chambliss
- / - / -
"Yes, ma'am, it's, er. . .a school. For learning, ah. . .magic."
As he spoke, the Prime Minister looked at the floor unhappily and actually ran a nervous finger under his collar. His suit was impeccably cut, and his hair looked as if each strand had been trimmed individually, yet he was as uncomfortable and wrong-footed as any child caught sneaking sweets.
"For learning magic. Indeed." Her Majesty the Queen (Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland) kept her tone neutral. She was tempted to unsettle the PM further by lacing her voice with incredulity, but restrained herself. Although winding up Prime Ministers was one of the subtler and more entertaining pleasures of her position, she couldn't indulge herself too often.
The Minister continued, "Constantia. . .er, Miss Bowes. . .has been invited to attend this school. Your young cousin," he added, no doubt trying to be helpful.
"My second cousin thrice removed, I believe," Elizabeth said, enjoying his slight flush at being corrected. Winding-up on this level was almost too easy.
"Er. . .just so, ma'am. Here is the letter she received." He held out a piece of thick parchment bearing an imposing embossed crest and the words "Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry."
"Dear Miss Bowes," the Queen read, murmuring a few words aloud. "Pleased to inform you. . .been accepted. . .term begins 1 September. . .Filius Flitwick, Deputy Headmaster. . ." She looked up at the Prime Minister, whose flush had deepened. "I take it this is not a prank?"
He cleared his throat. "Not a prank, ma'am, no. In my position, I have had occasion to deal with representatives of this, er, magical world. I assure you, they are quite real." He paused, then hurried on, "The fact of their existence was not something I was able to share. Strictly a need-to-know basis, you understand. . ."
He trailed off as the Queen waved an impatient hand. "Yes, yes, to be sure. But now, evidently, I do need to know?"
"Miss Bowes is the first, ah, witch with royal connections in over a century, ma'am. The. . .Minister of Magic felt that you should be informed."
"I see." Tapping the parchment on her hand, Elizabeth walked slowly toward a side window, content to let the Minister collect himself while she gave the matter some thought.
The news of a magical community in Britain wasn't the total shock to her that the Prime Minister evidently believed it to be. Rumours of such a world had circulated among members of the royal family for years, although she herself had long dismissed it as a fairy tale.
She had first heard the story as a child and had spent quite a few hours prowling the shrubbery at Balmoral, looking for evidence of witches. She'd had no trouble believing, then, that a girl could be born a witch. Hadn't she herself been born a princess? Just an accident of family, as her nurse Crawfie had always said. Princess or witch, it was nothing that could be helped.
Elizabeth had grown beyond such fancies, of course, although she would admit (to herself, at least) that a few odd occurrences over the years had sometimes brought the old stories back to her. Yet as a pleasant childhood memory only. . .certainly not as fact.
And yet. . .here stood assurance, in the form of a typically unimaginative bureaucrat, that the stories of magic had been true.
A girl could be born a witch after all.
She turned back to the Prime Minister, whose colour, she was glad to see, had returned to normal. His collar seemed still to be giving him trouble, however; he began to pull on it again as soon as she said,
"I would like to visit this Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry."
"Visit?" The man positively squeaked. "You mean - - go there? Go to the school?" His eyes bulged, and his Queen had a sudden mad fancy that his collar had decided to strangle him of its own accord. By magic.
"Yes," she nodded. "Go there. That is what 'visit' commonly signifies, is it not?"
"Well, ma'am, I. . ."
"You are in contact with someone at the school? This. . ." she looked at the parchment again, "Filius Flitwick, perhaps?"
"No, not exactly. I just. . .have a means of getting in touch with their Ministry. . ."
"Excellent. You will arrange the meeting, then? I believe my calendar is clear on Friday week."
The poor man looked as though he would protest, but then gave it up as the bad job he could no doubt see that it was.
"Friday week," he said faintly. "Quite. I'll do my best."
"Thank you." Nodding, she ended the interview by ringing for her assistant.
"I. . .Your Majesty," said the Prime Minister formally, looking slightly hunted. Giving his collar a final tug, he bowed himself out of the room.
- / - / -
"The queen of the realm wants to visit Hogwarts?" Headmistress Minerva McGonagall raised an intrigued eyebrow at the Minister of Magic, who sat in her office contentedly dunking digestives into a cup of her best, strongest tea. Whatever she'd expected when he'd owled asking for an immediate appointment, it hadn't been this.
"Why?" she asked, and then leant across her desk in mock horror. "Good heavens, Kingsley, you don't think she's found out that we don't pay British taxes?"
Kingsley Shacklebolt chuckled and gave his already-sodden biscuit another dunk. How he could continue drink a brew so crumb-laden, Minerva couldn't fathom. A waste of a good Assam, as she frequently told him.
"I'm sure she'd leave that sort of thing to minions," Kingsley said, munching. "According to the Muggle Prime Minister, she wants to assure herself that her young cousin is in good hands with you. Personally, I think she's just using the child as an excuse to come see some magic for herself."
"Hmm. One can hardly blame her, I suppose. It is a difficult life, I imagine, being queen, for all that she must travel a good deal. Magic might be a nice change."
Kingsley laughed. "She'll probably get more than she bargained for."
"One usually does," said Minerva.
"Do you know much about her?" Shacklebolt asked. "Until I was assigned to work in the Muggle Ministry during the war, I'm not sure I'd ever even seen her."
"I know fairly little about her, but I have seen her. In person, in fact. Twice, although not since the Grindelwald days. And I remember her coronation; I was living in London then, and the Muggle world was harder to avoid there than it is here. I'm sure she's changed a great deal, of course; fifty years is a long time for a Muggle." She gave Kingsley a wry smile. "And no small amount of time for a witch, either, come to that. It seems a lifetime ago."
Kingsley had set down his cup and was looking at her with interest. "You saw the Muggle Queen in person?"
"She wasn't queen then," Minerva said, her mind flitting back over the years to the image of a curly-headed child out walking with some sort of family retainer, the two of them passing sedately over the crest of a heather-brushed hill. "The first time I saw her, she was still a girl. Her family had - - and still has, I presume - - a castle near Máelclyde."
"They lived in a wizarding village?"
"No," Minerva said patiently, "I did. Well, one of my great-aunts did, and I sometimes visited her in summers. The Muggle royalty's home was called something else. . .Ballycastle?. . .no, Balmoral, that was it. My Aunt Thanea took me to look at it, once."
She smiled at the memory. "Auntie was. . .very straightforward. She paid no mind to roads or gates, but just Apparated us directly into the grounds. She found it quite an exasperating place - - a house less than a century old, but pretending to be ancient. She was quite fierce about it."
Minerva's voice trailed off as she heard the old woman's voice in her mind. The only reason those Muggle parvenus can call that pile a 'castle' is because they've never been to Hogwarts. You heed me, child. Once you get to Hogwarts, you'll never want to leave.
"And the queen?" Kingsley prompted. "Or, er, princess-as-was?"
"She was just a little girl on a hillside. Wearing hideously sensible Muggle shoes." She might be a princess, but she'll never be a witch, Aunt Thanea had said. And you'll always be. Remember that, Minerva girl.
Kingsley finished his tea but took up another digestive. "What was the second time you saw her?" he asked.
"That was later, just before Grindelwald fell. I was out of school by then. But it was nothing - - merely a glimpse." McGonagall stood and reached for her hat, letting
Shacklebolt know that Minerva had departed and the Headmistress had returned. Chatting with Kingsley was always a pleasure, but she had a school to run.
And a queen's visit to prepare for.
- / - / -
"The Headmistress is called Minerva McGonagall," the Prime Minister reported, not sure whether to be relieved or worried by the expression of near-excitement on the Queen's face. He didn't know when he'd ever seen her look so genuinely pleased. "She's been head of Hogwarts for five years, but was deputy head for a long time before that. Kingsley Shacklebolt - - that's the Minister of Magic - - he says she has taught at the school since 1956."
"She must be rather elderly, then," said the Queen in surprise.
"About, um, your age, ma'am," said the PM, looking a little embarrassed. "But their sort - - the magical people - - they live longer than the rest of us. I believe that among her own kind, she's considered to be only in late middle age."
"How very intriguing. What else can you tell me?"
"The minister and the headmistress are both war veterans. You recall the. . .unpleasantness of several years ago, the year of the bridge disaster and that freak hurricane? That was the fallout of a wizarding war. I believe that the Minister played a large part in bringing about the downfall of the tyrant who was threatening them. And so did this headmistress, as I understand it."
"She sounds formidable," the Queen said, looking interested.
A muttered "Quite" was as much as the Prime Minister was prepared to offer in reply, preferring not to say too much on the topic of formidable women.
"Well," he said instead, in what he hoped was a brisk and business-like tone, "I don't know much else about her. Frightfully competent, according to Shacklebolt. Basically gave up her life to the school. Dedicated. Worthy. You know the sort."
This remark he immediately regretted, for the Queen's eyes narrowed dangerously. "The sort? The dedicated sort who puts ideals before personal indulgence? Who lives a possibly lonely life in service of those ideals? Yes, I daresay I know the sort."
"Yes, well," said the PM hastily and changed the subject, although in truth, he was not eager to pursue the next issue, either. "About travel, ma'am. The Minister, er. . .says we need to come to Hogwarts through the fireplace."
The Queen's expression did not change, but suddenly the room felt much colder, and the Prime Minister felt his hand move involuntarily to his neck. In a different century, he thought, he'd probably be worrying about the chop.
"It's the safest, quickest method, apparently, for people like us," he rushed on. "No one will even need to know you've left the palace. We'll just whirl through the flames, never even feel them, and there we'll be. At Hogwarts. There might be a bit of, er, soot, but I am assured that they'll have us looking good as new in no time." He waited, expecting the temperature to drop even further, but to his surprise, the Queen smiled.
No, actually, she grinned. There was no other word to describe it - - she positively grinned.
- / - / -
"Filius will meet the Queen and her minister at the floo point and then alert us after he's helped them freshen up," Minerva said as she and the Minister of Magic stood in the Hogwarts entry hall. "I thought she might like the chance to collect herself before we descend upon her." Casting an appraising eye over Kingsley's deep-blue dress robes and silver hat, she added, "You look quite distinguished, my friend."
"As do you," he returned, thinking that in black robes with flowing, tartan-lined sleeves and a traditional pointed black hat, she looked the epitome of a witch. He didn't imagine that this effect was accidental: when it came to impressing Muggles, even queens, the magical trappings were half the battle. During his time in the Muggle ministry, Kingsley had been surprised to learn just how much power the very notion of witches still carried among non-magic folk. Minerva, he was sure, had learned the same lesson during her own forays into the Muggle world; she'd make full use of this advantage.
She'd already waved aside his attempt to present her with the "Royal Protocols" manual that the Muggle Prime Minister had given him.
"Neither of us intends to be disrespectful to the Queen, Kingsley," she'd said. "And I think it will be easier for all of us to retain our dignity if we're not fussing over arcane bits of imperfectly-remembered etiquette. In any case, she'll expect us to be exotic and unusual; it might disappoint her if we simply offered the same obeisance as any ordinary Muggle."
Kingsley had snorted. "You just don't want to curtsey to her," he'd said, chuckling.
"No more would you," Minerva had retorted. "Absurd custom." Then she said seriously, "I don't object to offering the Queen her due. I believe she's given up a good deal to serve her Muggle world. But our world has had enough enforced homage. No more 'lords' for me, Kingsley. Whatever they're called."
Kingsley hadn't argued; he knew a lost cause when he saw one, and he didn't think it would make much difference in the long run whether the Muggle protocols were followed. Besides, he sympathised with Minerva's view.
A flash of silver announced the arrival of the budgerigar that was Flitwick's Patronus. "Her Majesty is ready, if you please," said Filius's voice, sounding pleased itself.
Minerva lifted an eyebrow. "Are you ready, Minister?"
"As I'll ever be, Headmistress," he replied, resisting the temptation to curtsey to her as they started toward the small reception chamber at the side of the Great Hall.
Minerva, Headmistress of Hogwarts, meets Her Majesty, Queen of the Muggles.
Damn, but he was looking forward to this.
- / - / -
My god, it really is an effing witch! was the Muggle Prime Minister's shocked first thought. Not even stepping unscathed out of a burning fireplace and being greeted by a little man waving a wand had quite brought home to the PM the alien nature of this world the way this stern-faced woman did as she swept towards him in her pointed hat. Jesus, he thought, I hope she doesn't have one of those wands. . .
She. . .she's just like a grandmother, was Kingsley's disappointed first thought. . .an elderly, silver-haired grandmother in a pale-blue dress and matching extravagance of a hat. Holding a purse.
She has changed, was Minerva's startled first thought, and then she shook her head. Why was she surprised? Hadn't she already reminded herself that it had been fifty years? But the Queen's look of bright, alert interest. . .that hadn't changed. . .
I was right, was the Queen's pleased first thought. A formidable woman indeed.
The introductions were performed and acknowledged without a hitch. We're old political hands, after all, the lot of us, Kingsley thought as he was presented to the Queen.
She smiled at him as he bowed over her gloved fingers, and suddenly his disappointment lifted. There was power here, and knowingness, and an immense capacity for pleasure. He could sense it, feel it; he was enough of a Legilimens for that. He smiled back. "Ma'am," he said.
The Prime Minister noted with relief that the Headmistress didn't look nearly so witchy when she smiled. He could have done without the hat, though; it made him think of every bogey underneath his childhood bed and reminded him, as if he needed reminding, just how much he was not in charge here. Well, at least she didn't have a broom. Or a cat.
He cleared his throat, intending to propose a tour of this. . .castle, school, whatever it was, but the Queen forestalled him.
"We are in the Highlands, are we not?" she asked. "Might I see the grounds?"
The Headmistress nodded. "Gentlemen, shall we meet you in the Great Hall for lunch at noon?" To the queen, she said, "I know you're no stranger to the Highlands; I hope you'll feel at home. We have a loch - - just a small one, I'm afraid, but it does boast a Giant Squid."
The Prime Minister tugged on his collar, and as far as Kingsley could tell, the Queen seemed delighted.
- / - / -
Their walk to the grounds was leisurely and marked with pauses; the Queen couldn't make herself pass through the wonders of the magic castle without stopping to look and listen. She was adept at listening, not only because her position demanded it, but also because she so often heard much that was absorbing.
And the woman walking with her - - the witch - - was good at explaining; Elizabeth could tell this wasn't the first time the Headmistress had acted as ambassador for the magical world. Some people were tongue-tied and painfully awkward around the Queen; others tried too hard to be instant friends. Headmistress McGonagall did neither: she knew just how much distance to maintain, just how much information to reveal.
And she was not, the Queen was glad to note, someone who believed that constant eye contact was necessary as a show of good will; for the most part, the Headmistress kept her gaze focused on other things besides the Queen's face. Perhaps she understood, as Elizabeth did, just how much could be read in one's eyes - - more, often, than one wanted to see. Or show.
Or it could be, Elizabeth realised, that this witch was as naturally reserved as the Queen herself, her diplomacy a skill learned only through long and no doubt arduous practice. One wasn't necessarily born at ease in public. . .
But then they reached the main doors of the castle, and she let go of all these thoughts as she took in the vista before her: beckoning fields and majestic crags, a forest of mystery and promise, the sun-tipped loch, and clouds like nowhere else. . .in short, the Highlands.
"Oh, my," she said.
Beside her, the Headmistress smiled. "I thought you might appreciate us," she said, and the sound of her voice was like Scotland itself. It was the sound of the Queen's own childhood, of the land that was also the refuge of her adulthood, the one place where she could walk or ride or drive by herself, where she could get muddy and work with her hands and or just sit and watch the sky.
Scotland was where Elizabeth could play. And Scotland was there in the Headmistress's lilting tones.
"You're a Highlander, I see," the Queen offered. "Or perhaps I should say, I can hear."
The smile deepened, and Elizabeth thought this was probably a side of Professor McGonagall that her students rarely saw. She made a mental note to seek out her young cousin, the new royal witch, during school hols and compare headmistress notes. It would be something to look forward to. Talking with other people's children was one of Elizabeth's pleasures; their conversations rarely included unspoken expectations or demands.
"You have family here?" Elizabeth continued, the familiarity of the setting leading her to be more personal than was her wont. But she wanted to learn more about this woman, this place, this magical Scotland she'd never known. "Children?"
The Headmistress indicated the castle with a quick wave of her hand. "Family of a sort," she said. "And children by the hundreds."
It was her stock response, Elizabeth could tell - - honed over the years to put off the overly-inquisitive. Message received, the Queen was about to turn to more innocuous topics when the Headmistress looked directly at her and appeared to come to a decision.
- / - / -
"You have family here. . .children?" asked the Queen, and Minerva had given her usual answer without even thinking. It wasn't the first time that strangers - - usually the bolder parents, or casual acquaintances formed on her annual holiday abroad - - had asked about her personal life, and she never felt the slightest need to explain anything that was so obviously not their business. In a boarding school, privacy was worth all the gold in Gringotts, and she guarded hers as jealously as any dragon guarded a vault.
But she felt a sudden pang for this woman at her side, a woman whose entire life had been lived in a much more relentless public gaze than Minerva could ever imagine, a woman whose story was known to anyone with even the most random prurient interest, known even to someone like Minerva, who wanted details of Muggle scandals and politics about as much as she wanted a case of spattergroit.
Many in the wizarding world knew of the Queen's troubles with her misbehaving children, the rumours of her husband's dalliances. Minerva thought about how off-balance she herself felt when she met people who knew more about her than she did about them; she could only imagine how difficult it must be for this Muggle Queen, when everyone knew more about her than she knew of them.
The least she could do, Minerva decided, was to share a bit of herself.
"No, I have no children of my own," she told the Queen as they descended the broad stone steps to the grounds. "Nor did I ever want any. My family was not pleased; they felt I had an obligation to help populate the wizarding world, for there are not so many of us, you know. But I am not maternal; I would have made a poor mother. I knew I could better serve our world in other ways."
For a moment, she feared that she had been too personal; the Queen, Minerva realised belatedly, had faced even stronger pressure to reproduce. But. . .well, it was too late to go back now.
The Queen, however, was not offended. "You may not have wanted motherhood," she said, "yet you did want to serve your world. It's a great sacrifice, giving up one's personal life, personal relationships."
Minerva shook her head, laughing slightly. "Oh, I am not so saintly as all that. I've had a personal life." And still have one, she thought, her mind filled with a sudden image of Rolanda Hooch lying warm and sleepy against her in their bed just that morning. But the Queen needn't know about that.
The Queen said, "But when you give yourself to a larger cause, relationships must always occupy a secondary place."
"Perhaps," Minerva replied. "Though I have no regrets."
"No, indeed," said the Queen. "There are many compensations."
"Many," Minerva agreed.
"Have you thought of retiring? Leaving it all behind?" asked the Queen abruptly.
"No," said Minerva without hesitation. Being a teacher, being headmistress - - they weren't just what she did; they were what she was.
"Have you?" she asked in return.
"Never," said the Queen. "But don't tell my son."
She cocked her head under her amazing flowered hat, and suddenly, both she and Minerva were laughing.
- / - / -
They had reached the edge of the lake, although Elizabeth saw no sign of a giant squid; that reference, she decided, must be another example of what she was coming to realise was Headmistress McGonagall's dry humour.
The sun sparkled on the water, and animals seemed to be moving in the forest, and all at once Elizabeth felt the way she had felt all those many years ago, when she'd been a little girl looking for witches in the shrubbery at Balmoral: alive in a world full of possibility.
She turned to the Headmistress. "Would you. . .do some magic?" she asked.
The stern face softened into a smile once more, and suddenly Professor McGonagall was gone.
Elizabeth gave a start. She'd expected. . .what, she wasn't sure. Not a rabbit pulled out of the pointed hat, surely, but. . .
A soft brush against her ankle took her eyes to the ground and to a small tabby cat that was sitting there, flicking its tail gently.
Elizabeth had always been a dog woman, but she stretched out her fingers to the cat nonetheless. It evaded her hand neatly, in the manner of its kind, and moved out of reach to gaze at her unblinkingly before unexpectedly, amazingly. . .turning into Headmistress McGonagall.
The Queen stared.
"Do forgive me," the Headmistress said. "That was no doubt more grandstanding than you needed. I. . ." She broke off sharply. "Ma'am? Are you quite all right? I am sorry. . .Please, sit down."
An armchair - - chintz - - appeared out of nowhere, and Elizabeth thought it prudent to seat herself on it. She'd felt briefly unsteady, as if time had somehow shifted, and she had been thrown back to an afternoon almost sixty years earler. . .
"My apologies," said the Headmistress again. "I never intended to startle you so."
"No. It's not that, not the magic. It's. . .I've seen you. Before. It was you. Wasn't it? At the demonstration?"
Professor McGonagall created a second chair, this one straight-backed and wooden, and sat down herself, her brows drawn together in concern. "The demonstration?"
"The ambulance demonstration." Elizabeth took a steadying breath and continued, "Many years ago, during the war. . .our war, I mean, the one against the Nazis, I worked for a time in an ambulance unit. . ."
- / - / -
She had felt grown-up and daring, joining the unit. It had been so real, the first real thing she had done - - making a contribution. . .
Before the unit, she had been just a child, sometimes embarrassingly so. She still remembered with mortification a strawberry cream tea to which she and her sister had been treated during one of the war years. They had been in the country, visiting villages, keeping the spirits up, as her mother put it, and in one of the towns, the villagers had given them a superb tea, with fresh strawberries and scones, clotted cream and jam. There had been puddings - - Madeira cake and treacle tart with custard - - and strong tea with plenty of milk, and lumps and lumps of sugar.
Elizabeth had been young, perhaps only fifteen, but still old enough that she ought to have known better. . .
"And did you enjoy yourself, dear?" her mother had asked, smiling at Elizabeth's formerly-heaped plate, on which nothing then remained but a few smears of jam.
"Oh, yes, very much!" Elizabeth had replied. "Did you have any idea, Mummy, that they ate so well in the villages? I am sure we don't have half so much in town."
She'd been surprised when her mother frowned and a similar look of disappointment crossed the formerly-beaming face of the head of the local Women's Institute. Only later did she learn that the villagers had given up their best rations, their long-hoarded treasures. . .that they had no doubt gone without for days afterward, in order to offer the young princesses such wartime luxury.
She had been ashamed, even though she had meant no harm, and she had wanted to do something to pay back. That tea was one of the reasons she had begged to be allowed to join the unit, where she had learned to drive and work on engines, and she'd felt proud. Even when the newsreel cameras rolled, and she knew her hard-won expertise was being exploited and condescended to - - "look at the princess, she's actually using a spanner, isn't that sweet?" - - she hadn't minded. She'd been doing something real.
On that newsreel day, after the filming ended, there had been the usual swarm of officials and spectators, and Elizabeth had taken a moment to stand alone out of the way, just to catch her breath and settle back into herself.
That's when she had seen the girl. A girl about her own age, but not in uniform, not a member of the unit. A tall, pale girl, thin the way so many people were after several years of rations. She'd had dark hair in a plait down her back, even though she was old enough to wear it up or even cut it off. And she had looked at Elizabeth with a stare that was disconcerting - - not challenging or unfriendly or even overly-curious, but direct and solemn, as if she, too, was sometimes breathless with the knowledge of how much was at stake in the world, how much everything mattered. . .and not just in terms of war.
Elizabeth had wanted to talk to the girl, but she'd got distracted - - someone had called to her, or the camera-carrying technicians had blocked her view, and by the time she turned back, the dark-haired girl had been gone. She had somehow managed to disappear completely, despite the fact that the nearest building seemed too far away for her already to have reached.
The girl had been gone, and in the place where she'd stood, there'd been only a small grey-and-black cat.
"It was you," Elizabeth said again.
- / - / -
Minerva hadn't intended to see the princess on that long-ago, wartime day. She'd been on a courier mission for the Ministry, and though such deliveries were usually routine, danger always lurked. She'd been lucky to get the assignment, despite the fact that her war record so far had been stellar - - the wizarding leaders had been annoyingly reluctant to expose its witches to anything too real.
She had taken her job seriously - - too seriously, her mother had complained, but that had been Minerva's way, even at twenty. The things one did mattered, and they ought to be done well. So she had felt then and still felt.
On that day, the princess day, she'd arrived at her drop point with an hour to spare and had stopped for food in a Muggle café.
The waitresses had been talking. "Princess Elizabeth fixing a tyre, who could credit it?" one had wondered.
"I think it's grand," another had said. "And if I'm through early enough, I'm going to go over there. To the base. See if civilians will be allowed to watch."
The first had scoffed. "As if they'll let the likes of us in. It'll be restricted, it will. I shan't bother."
But I might, Minerva had thought. Talk of the princess had brought back the memory of that little girl in the pleated woollen skirt and ugly shoes, and she suddenly wanted to see her again. A princess still. But as Aunt Thanea had said, never a witch.
So she had gone. Getting onto the military base had been easy: a soldier's half-hearted grab at her cat form, followed by a muttered "stupid moggy" as she'd slipped past him, had been the only attempt to stop her. She'd changed back into herself as soon as she could; animagus transformation was still fairly new to her then, just months after her qualification, and she hadn't completely lost the sense of its alien-ness.
But then, standing alone in the shadow of a building, she'd realised that she had no idea where the princess might be: the site was a mad chaos of bustling functionaries and hangers-on and people in uniform, men and women alike.
Still, there seemed to be no point in standing still, so Minerva had started across an empty, grassy lot. And suddenly, there the princess had been - - a serious, dark-haired girl in uniform and hat, recognisably the child from Balmoral. Surprisingly, she'd been standing alone, enjoying what must have been a cherished few moments of peace.
What is it like? Minerva had wondered, letting herself stare. Always to be watched and not to be a witch?
As if she felt the questions, the princess had looked up and seen her, and her careful gaze had left Minerva feeling unaccountably exposed.
- / - / -
"Yes," Minerva said, nodding to the elderly Muggle Queen, whose expression was no less thoughtful than it had been nearly sixty years earlier. "It was I. I had no business being there, of course, so perhaps you will accept my belated apologies for sneaking in. But I was curious about you."
The serious eyes twinkled; Elizabeth was amused. "It must be a very convenient skill, becoming a cat. Can all witches do it?"
"No, there are very few of us who can transform into animals. I know of no one else whose form is a cat."
"That's both a pity and a relief," said Elizabeth. She rose, and Minerva did the same, Vanishing both chairs with a wave of her wand. The Queen, she observed with approval, accepted their disappearance without so much as a blink.
"On the one hand, at least I need not mistrust every feline I see," Elizabeth said, as they started back towards the castle. "But on the other, it would have provided a satisfying explanation for one of my childhood dreams. Your magical world, you see, is a legend in some royal circles. As a girl, I heard rumours of it, and I'm afraid I spent many hours searching the underbrush at Balmoral for evidence of witches. I found nothing but a stray kitten. I would have enjoyed thinking that perhaps my searches had borne fruit after all."
Minerva was amused in her turn. "What sort of witchy evidence did you expect to find in the bushes?"
"I'm not sure I knew. A broom, perhaps? Or. . ." she gestured toward Minerva's head, "something like that?"
Minerva touched the brim of her hat, the emblem of the witch she was and had ever been proud to be. She might be a princess, but she'll never be a witch, Aunt Thanea had said of this queen, but now Minerva thought that Auntie had been wrong. In her own Muggle way, the Queen was a fine witch indeed.
On impulse, she removed her hat and shrank it to fit in her hand.
"You've found your evidence of witches now, Your Majesty," she said, presenting the miniature cone to the woman at her side. "In a few years, if you like, your young cousin Miss Bowes will be able to return it to its normal size."
The serious eyes were smiling now, and Elizabeth carefully placed the hat inside the purse that had never left her hand. "Thank you," she said. "Headmistress McGonagall of Hogwarts."
- / - / -
The Muggle Prime Minister and the Minister of Magic stood on the steps of Hogwarts castle watching the two women make their way across the wide lawns. They seemed a study in contrasts: the one tall, black-gowned, and severe, the other short, rounded, and pastel. Yet they had clearly found common ground; they were talking easily, and the queen was laughing.
"Well, they seem to be getting along," said the Prime Minister, sounding as if he didn't quite believe it. "What do you suppose they're talking of?"
Kingsley Shacklebolt shrugged. "I imagine they both have many stories to tell."
And he would have liked to have heard them, he thought. Despite their very public faces, Minerva McGonagall and Elizabeth the Queen managed to keep their real selves well-hidden. He'd fought beside Minerva, would have died with her if necessary. Yet he never felt as if he knew her.
They would become legends, these women, no doubt; their stories would read like something out of Beedle the Bard. Or perhaps one of those Muggle fairy tales. . .
Once upon a time there was a great queen who met a powerful witch. . .