A/N and Warnings-- This story was written for the 2009 "HP Yule Balls," a holiday slash-exchange fest on Live Journal. Among my recipient's fun requests were consensual bdsm, voyeurism, wax-play, corsets, sexual tension, switching points of view, and "a secret club for lesbian / queer women." You'll find them all here.

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Truth Beyond

By Kelly Chambliss

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RS~~

Rita Skeeter likes the sound of the lash -- the crack of leather on skin, of words on parchment. "Scourgify," she whispers as she flicks her quill, welting ink onto vellum, and she's not talking about cleaning charms.

Or perhaps she is -- to Rita, her writing is a way of cleansing a little of the bullshit from the world. Some might call her work sensationalised; Rita calls it truth beyond facts. Did she fudge a few of the facts of Albus Dumbledore's life? No doubt. But did she tell the truth about him as an obsolete, manipulative old fraud? No doubt again. Her pieces on Hagrid, Dippet, Potter? All truer than true.

With her quill, with her truth, Rita stripes all their backs raw -- all the power-boys, all the hero-boys.

And with her lovingly-oiled, pliant lash, she sometimes leaves her mark on the smooth skin of women, or asks them to leave theirs on her. These are marks of a different kind.

But they are truth all the same.

---///---

Madam P~~

Hogwarts School is not the only place in the wizarding world that contains a Room of Requirement. The Rooms in Madam Puddifoot's, for instance, have been meeting the very particular requirements of gentlewitches since the days of Queen Charlotte.

Oh, not Madam Puddifoot's tea shop in Hogsmeade, home of the twee and trite. That shop is just Madam's little joke. The real Madam Puddifoot's is in London, tucked down an obscure and dingy Muggle alley that might have been off-putting to patrons if they ever actually saw it. But since the women who seek the Madam's comforts simply Apparate directly into her anteroom, the alley remains nothing more than a convenient blind.

Not that anyone could be directed to the external location even if she thought she would prefer to enter through the front door. Powerful Fidelius charms protect both the establishment and the women who desire what Madam Puddifoot offers. (She is only "Madam Puddifoot" so-called; each new proprietor, carefully selected by her predecessor, assumes the name in homage to that original Madam, now long-departed but still well-appreciated.) No one who visits the quiet, dark Rooms is able to reveal the existence of either place or partner; once a suitable woman is invited and entertained, she becomes part of the delicious secret.

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Madam P~~

And what makes a woman "suitable"? The nature of her needs. Some women already know what they want and are bold enough to ask for it; others don't know their own desires until another woman, one who knows how to read the signs of need and longing, shows them, in precise and exquisite detail, just what it is they require, whether it be pleasure or pain, restraint or freedom, heat or ice, cock or cunt. Or both or neither.

The needs vary, of course, and Madam P caters to them all; her business is provision, not proscription. Her Rooms supply whatever her women yearn for: surfaces hard or soft, metal smooth or sharp, garments tight or full. Velvets, leathers, silks. Rings and locks. Keys. Toys and tools and a sea of c's (clamps, collars, cuffs). At Madam's, witches come and play, play and come, however they will.

---///---

MMc~~

Minerva McGonagall first visits Madam Puddifoot's when she is 22.

The Muggle and Grindelwald wars have ended, and she has been drifting, unsure where to go. When she'd been at school, she'd had plans for her life: her goals had been clear; her path had seemed straight. But then too many died and too much was lost -- parents, brother, a place to call home -- and now that the wars are over, she finds that the idea of advanced magical studies in India no longer appeals.

Oddly, nothing else appeals, either, so she takes a low-level clerical job at the Ministry, nothing that requires any thought, and ignores the exasperation of her best friends Augusta ("Don't be so stupid, Minerva!") and Alastor ("Don't let the bastards win, girl!") She ignores the visit from her old Transfiguration professor ("If there's any way I can help you put your talents to proper use, Miss McGonagall. . .") She ignores them all and does as she pleases.

She becomes friends with Miss Bowers, a secretary in the Department of Magical Education. Miss Bowers dwells somewhere in the vast expanse of a witch's middle age, a woman of 45 or 60 or 75 who has shingled grey hair and stout walking shoes and who affects heavy Muggle tweeds under her robes. She's competent and capable and is largely taken for granted by her colleagues.

Yet her eyes gleam with wit and intelligence and something more, something that draws Minerva in and leads them both to long nights of sharp pleasure at each other's hands. These nights stand in vivid contrast to the waking dream that Minerva finds her days to be; she begins to think of her time with Miss Bowers as the only real thing she knows.

It is Miss Bowers who first invites Minerva to Puddifoot's. She makes clear, in an oblique, unclear way, what sort of delights might await them in those Imperturbable'd Rooms, and Minerva feels a hot jolt of fear and desire at the possibilities.

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RS~~

Rita has always wanted to be a writer. In her school days, during long winter evenings spent in the Ravenclaw common room, she would amuse herself by charming her quill to play solitary vocabulary games. "Words with 'B' that stand for Me!" she remembers whispering once and then smirking as the quill immediately began to write, "brash, blunt, brazen, bright. . ."

She still has that old parchment; she's added to it over the years. She's added "brave." She's added "bi."

She's added "best."

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MMc~~

Minerva knows that Miss Bowers is what she herself could easily become: quiet, plain, bookish, relied-upon but unappreciated. Alone.

Thus she is delighted when she meets what she thinks of as the true Miss Bowers: Miss Bowers the devastating wit; Miss Bowers the sensualist; Miss Bowers the woman of passion and abandon, the woman who shows Minerva that a girl without clothes is more than just a naked girl -- she's a freed girl, an opened girl, a girl who can spread her legs wide and beg for fingers and tongue and even charmed rubber cocks and who can cry out her pleasure as loudly as she likes.

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MMc~~

At Madam Puddifoot's, Miss Bowers explains the rules, and Minerva is comforted, for she has never seen rules as restrictions, but as something akin to lifejackets. With rules, you can fling yourself into the fathomless ocean and never sink, no matter how deep into the murky places you plunge. As she so often tries to tell Alastor, rules mean trust. If everyone just played the game, followed the rules, there'd be no need for constant vigilance.

Minerva knows she can trust Miss Bowers, for Miss Bowers plays the game. She follows the rules, accepts the safewords, honours Minerva's wishes. They are equals despite Minerva's youth, despite Miss Bowers' experience and sophistication. Minerva -- young, female, unpretty, too smart -- has rarely been made to feel like anyone's equal before.

They are equals, yet Miss Bowers is also her teacher, and Minerva, as always, is the perfect student.

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RS~~

Rita learns that writing isn't enough; even writing well isn't enough. If one has truths to tell, one must tell them in a form that that people want to read.

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MMc~~

Minerva learns much from Miss Bowers.

She learns that her full breasts, of which she has always been self-conscious and vaguely ashamed, are beautiful to others. And they become beautiful to her, too, once she sees their creamy firmness cradled in another's admiring hands, once she feels them nipped and pinched and stroked into a source of tingling pleasure.

She learns about pleasure, too -- learns that it can come from pain, that it can be pain. Her wrists magicked into tight restraints, she learns to catch her breath in delicious anticipation when Miss Bowers first smooths oil over her skin and then tips a flaring pillar of paraffin slowly, tantalizingly, over Minerva's chest. She learns how to watch the reflection of the flame in Miss Bowers' eyes at the same time that she watches the pearly pooled wax slide out of the candle; she learns to wait for the moment that she'll feel the burn bite her skin as it falls, drop by drop by exquisite drop, on her breasts and thighs, until finally she cannot tell the heat of the wax from the heat of herself.

And she learns of other fires, the ones that that can be lit with the spark of leather. These are the fires that Miss Bowers wants for herself, and she teaches her pupil these lessons as well.

---///---

RS~~

Self-assurance is not something Rita Skeeter lacks, but that doesn't mean she is unreflective or that she has no moments of doubt. The first time she takes a woman to her bed, for instance, she realizes that there is much she doesn't know, such as whether she should spell away her long scarlet fingernails or keep them for kinks as yet unlearnt.

Afterward, when she is alone, she reviews her first lesson with satisfaction and sketches out a plan for further study. Thoroughness is one of the secrets of Rita's success.

---///---

MMc~~

They are in their usual Room at Madam Puddifoot's, but the bed with the red velvet hangings, the tasteless one that always has Miss Bowers tutting in disapproval, has become something else. It has changed into a frame of two metal beams, a frame that looks to Minerva like a giant rune -- the X that means "gift" or perhaps -- if one tilts the cross bar just a bit -- the sharp, slashed line that means "need."

Miss Bowers teaches Minerva new rules, new theories, new practices: the rules of lash and strap, the theory of pressure and force, the practice of laying clean lines with the precision of a spell. Swish and flick, swish and flick, swish and flick, each move effecting fleshly transformation devoutly to be wished.

"Now for me," Miss Bowers says at last, smoothing a supple strip of leather into Minerva's palms. It is neither thin enough to cut or wide enough to soothe, and Minerva twists it round her fingers and watches as Miss Bowers strips in her efficient, matter-of-fact way. When her friend finally spreads herself atop the crossed bars, Minerva can imagine the feel of the metal as intensely as if it were her own bare breasts pressed against the chill.

"Incarcerous," whispers Miss Bowers, and Minerva stares, mesmerized, as fine silver cords bind the sturdy wrists and ankles. The candlelight edges the line of buttock and thigh, highlights the broad, muscular shoulders. Minerva can scarcely breathe.

Yet she hesitates, the braided whip handle lying heavy in her hand, until Miss Bowers looks at her steadily over one bare shoulder. "Don't be afraid of your own power, Minerva," she says. "Feel it. Harness it. Use it."

Thus Miss Bowers helps her see each stroke as her duty and an art, and Minerva, the perfect deputy even then, is glad to meet her mentor's needs. The lash is, after all, merely another sort of wand, and Minerva has always had fine control of hers. Ten-and-a-quarter inches of rosewood and dragon heartstring. Swish and flick.

She lifts the lash, brings it down, first left, then right. An "X" appears, pale red on pale skin. A runic gift.

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MMc~~

The daytime Minerva, she of the high collars, long skirts, and tight hair, knows that none of the people who think they know her best -- not Augusta, not Alastor, certainly not Professor Dumbledore -- would ever recognise the nighttime Minerva, she of the naked body, flowing locks, and open legs.

She knows they will never understand what she has come to understand: that both her magics and her passions are too strong to be left unfettered. She must pin them up, tie them down, bank their fires behind her prim manner and Madam Puddifoot's charmed doors. And then, once they are controlled, she can let them loose.

The two Minervas are not different at all; the night is just the other side of day.

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RS~~

When Rita gets her first reporting job, she celebrates by treating her current flame to a stiff drink in the Leaky and a good fuck in her bed. And at Flourish and Blotts, she treats herself to a stack of books on Animagus transformation.

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MMc~~

When Minerva passes her Animagus test, she doesn't celebrate by changing into her feline form. She celebrates by going to Madam Puddifoot's and exploring a different kind of transformation entirely.

She brings a cat to Miss Bowers, though it is not a tabby, and it has no legs. It does, however, have several tails.

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MMc~~

Minerva's sexual apprenticeship under Miss Bowers teaches her more than technique; it teaches her confidence and ease and the best sort of shamelessness.

It is Miss Bowers to whom Minerva first tells the news that she has decided to leave the Ministry for an apprenticeship of another kind, a two-year transfiguration internship in Austria.

As a going-away gift, Miss Bowers hands her a charmed parchment that will direct her to an out-of-the-way address in Vienna's Old City. "Frau Pettifuhr's. . .ah, tea shop," says Miss Bowers with a wink. "You'll feel right at home."

---///---

RS~~

Rita Skeeter's first visit to Madam Puddifoot's happens accidentally.

It is October of 1981, and Rita is a reporter for the Daily Prophet. She's still stuck on the cotillion beat, her days spent interviewing rabid pureblood mothers desperate to upstage their rivals by planning ever-more-elaborate balls: I'll see your three hundred leaping leprechauns and raise them five hundred Florentine faeries. . .

Rita is desperate, too, desperate to make her mark, find a scoop, hit the big time. She has just mastered her Animagus form, and while a beetle would not have been her first choice, she isn't blind to its investigative potential. Six-leggedness, she realizes, might just come in very, very handy in her search for storiestruth (she puts no space between the words in her mind; they both mean the same to her).

Lovely Rita, beetle maid, is ready; all she needs is the right opportunity.

And then it happens -- an attack at Godric's Hollow, two young people dead, one Dark Lord ditto. And one baby very much alive.

It's the biggest scoop since Grindelwald, and Rita is among the first at the scene. Oh, not in her human form, of course; she scuttles about on six slightly-sticky feet, watching, listening, finally latching on to Hagrid when he arrives. Hagrid is Dumbledore's man, everyone knows that, and Rita is prepared to bet her gold teeth that Dumbledore is involved in this story up to his dotty neck.

And sure enough, it's to Dumbledore that Hagrid goes, motorcycle, baby, and all. They land in some sort of Muggle neighborhood, and Professor McGonagall is there, too, and so, obviously, is the story of the century -- Rita can smell it.

Rita intends to attach herself to the baby's blanket, so that she can find out where this miracle child will be hidden, but she gets tangled in Hagrid's beard, she can't hear, can't see, has to struggle through hairy jungles until she finally surfaces sufficiently to hear Dumbledore say, "We've no business staying here; we may as well go and join the celebrations." She pushes forward, jumps blindly. . .

And finds herself falling onto the soft back of a cat.

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RS~~

The cat transforms, and it is McGonagall, and McGonagall Apparates, taking with her six-legged Rita, who is safe within the folds of the professor's emerald velvet cloak, and now they are in a dim, warm lobby of plush sofas and tall candles, and a low, welcoming voice is saying, "Good evening, Professor. I'm glad you're with us on this happy night; your usual room is ready."

Rita hears Dumbledore's words in her mind and knows that whatever celebration Minerva McGonagall is about to join, Rita will be sharing it.

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RS~~

There is someone waiting for McGonagall in her "usual room," someone who helps her remove the cloak and fold it on a chair, and when Rita creeps to the edge of the velvet, she sees a dark-haired woman wearing a loose red robe and holding two flutes of champagne. She hands one to the professor and smiles. "Minerva."

"Sabine," says McGonagall, smiling in return.

"To the end of him," says Sabine, touching her glass to McGonagall's and taking a sip.

"The end of him," McGonagall echoes. But before she drinks, she adds, "for now."

Then, flutes still in hand, the women come together, their mouths meeting, each one tangling her free hand in the other's hair.

Rita watches in amazement. It is the prim, rigid Head of Gryffindor, the bane of Rita's rule-breaking youth, who is shaking her head to loosen a heavy fall of black hair down her back, who is cupping another woman's breast, who is moaning softly as that woman's teeth graze her neck.

The champagne glasses float to a side table, and McGonagall slides the red robe off Sabine's shoulders, revealing a body encased in a black-and-white-striped corset. Barely-covered breasts rise enticingly from a bodice threaded with crimson ribbon, and Rita is able to answer a question that the Animagus literature doesn't cover: one can still feel very human arousal while in Animagus form.

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RS~~

Madam Puddifoot's Fidelius Charm works on Animagi, too, as Rita learns when she attempts to find information about the place. She tries to ask about it, but is unable to utter a comprehensible question; she can't even write about Dumbledore and McGonagall and the Potter baby.

This is magical protection at its strongest, she suspects, and when she finally tracks down an old girlfriend, a woman whose preference for the English vice Rita had discovered during their Hogwarts days, her guess is confirmed.

"Yes, you can only discuss the secret of Madam P's with others who know it," says her friend Madeline. "And you can't discuss your partners at all; I'm surprised whoever took you didn't tell you that. You've been just the once?" she asks, and smirks when Rita nods. "Did you enjoy yourself?"

Rita just smiles.

---///---

RS~~

When she closes her eyes at night, Rita likes to remember how Professor McGonagall and her friend Sabine celebrated the defeat of Voldemort.

She likes to remember the red garters that held up Sabine's dark stockings, the high-buttoned boots that sheathed her feet, the red laces that pulled the corset to impossible tightness over her curving hips.

She likes to remember McGonagall's black lace underthings and how Sabine spelled them off slowly, one garment a time, and when Rita thinks about the body thus revealed, she of course remembers the surprisingly lush breasts and the lean legs. But what she remembers most are two other things --

She remembers how McGonagall's narrow, high-arched bare foot strained against the dark leather of the ankle cuff as the professor watched Sabine buckle a strap-on around her satin-clad hips. And she remembers how, later, McGonagall tossed her hair from side to side as she came, Sabine nestled between her thighs.

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RS~~

When Rita Skeeter first seeks out Minerva McGonagall at her regular Friday-night table at the Three Broomsticks, she hasn't quite decided whether her aim is seduction or blackmail or both. At the very least, there's a story to be had, though where or if Rita tells it remains to be seen.

The professor is polite but distant, unforthcoming, yet Rita is undaunted. She loves a challenge, and seduction, whether sexual or journalistic, is a delectable process that she doesn't mind prolonging. She returns every week, until her visits come to be expected, and McGonagall smiles when Rita arrives.

Each time she meets the professor, Rita plans to mention Madam Puddifoot's, and each time, she finds herself unable to. She'd suspect some kind of charm, except that she knows the reason for her silence is something within herself.

---///---

MMc~~

Minerva watches her former student wend her way past the weekend-crowded tables, bearing her single drink. By now Miss Skeeter knows better than to offer to purchase a round; Minerva cannot be bought.

They are not alike, prim Professor McGonagall and outrageous Rita Skeeter, and yet they are. Minerva knows how the world judges them both -- she unmarried, so of course unwanted; reserved, so of course repressed. And Rita, bold, so of course a bitch; ambitious, so of course abnormal. Not that Minerva trusts Miss Skeeter for a moment, or approves of her, or even likes her. . .but she does understand her.

In fact, she knows better than Miss Skeeter herself what Miss Skeeter wants: Minerva recognises the look, the touch of hunger in the eyes; she sees the desire behind the quickened breath and heightened colour. She knows she could, if she wished, describe precisely to Miss Skeeter the hot, anxious, ready flutter she is feeling deep inside.

"Professor," says Miss Skeeter, sitting down and smirking and no doubt thinking herself in control.

So Minerva had thought, once, too, until she found someone who knew better.

It amuses Minerva to think that she could now play Miss Bowers to Miss Skeeter's version of herself, though Miss Skeeter is older now than Minerva had been then, and worldlier by far.

But still, Miss Skeeter has much to learn.

And Minerva, of course, is a teacher above all.

---///---

MMc~~

They talk and come to know each other. Rita moves from "Professor" to "Minerva," although never quite to "friend." Minerva moves from "student" to "woman," although never quite to "Rita."

Somehow Minerva knows that Miss Skeeter knows of her and of Madam Puddifoot's Rooms, and Miss Skeeter knows that she knows, but they do not put the knowing into the hard shape of words.

---///---

MMc~~

Yet they both come to know, too, that some day they will visit the Rooms together, though it is more than a year after their first meeting in the pub that Minerva invites Miss Skeeter to make the journey with her to London.

She still does not trust Miss Skeeter's silence, but she knows she doesn't need to; Madam Puddifoot's powerful charms will keep any scoop unwritten. As for trusting her in the discipline, well, Minerva has her doubts there, too. But she will see to it that Miss Skeeter plays by the rules, or she will not play at all.

She still does not quite like Miss Skeeter, and she definitely still disapproves of her and her cavalier attitude towards words and truth. A witch of Miss Skeeter's abilities, Minerva thinks, ought to understand the literally spell-binding power of words; she should take more care with both her work and herself.

Minerva has seen Miss Skeeter activate her Quick-Quotes Quills, sucking their ends to give them her own essence, leaving parts of herself behind, spelled into falsity. The foolish woman has even charmed the quills to write her as five years younger than she is, and she uses them to inscribe her facts into fictions. It's a dangerous form of transfiguration; she could lose control of her very core, fragmenting it into the abstraction of too many words on too many parchments.

That's why Minerva decides, finally, to induct Miss Skeeter into the secret world that has been her own home for so many years: she wants to connect Miss Skeeter to the concrete. There's nothing like a touch of a lash to focus the mind wonderfully on the specific, the real.

Time and space contract until there is nothing but you and the press of frame or bed against you, nothing but you and the soft, relentless slap of leather on skin, each blow building exquisitely on the last, each one adding its tingling reality. It's the formation of the universe in reverse: all light and movement and matter re-condense to a single point, heat and sting and skin and self sensitise into one whole, until world and soul explode outward again and you come and come and there is no retreat, only the moment and the sharp truth of sensation.

Minerva wants Miss Skeeter to learn the rules; she wants her to learn that you can get yourself back only because you give yourself up. Total surrender, yet total control. It is the only way Minerva can give herself power over her own intensity, and it is the way she will show Miss Skeeter, not because she likes Miss Skeeter or approves of her -- she doesn't -- but because she recognises her.

---///---

RS~~

Rita thinks at first that the Minerva she comes to know in Madam Puddifoot's dim and private rooms, the Minerva who shares herself without shame or concealment, is as unlike the stern, be-spectacled professor as is the night the day, but she soon learns otherwise.

She learns that the bun and the bonds are the same: in their restraint is Minerva's freedom; within their safe embrace, she can let her fierce power rage, and it is all the fiercer for having been dammed.

Minerva's truth, Rita decides, is like a wide strap laid on broadly, its force even, its effect gradual but inescapable.

Her own truth, on the other hand, is a whip that is thin and dangerous and brings her blood.

Thus the marks she and Minerva leave are of different kinds.

But they are truth all the same.

~~end