A/N This is a sequel to "Sleeping Dragons", but it can be read independently. Still, "Sleeping Dragons" is on FF net as well, so you might want to go there first.
Moira of the Mountain did a wonderful betajob, for which I'm most grateful.
Neville Longbottom lifted his hand to knock on the door.
"Came to see the Headmistress?"
A Death-Where-Is-Thy-Sting voice, a deep sigh. The gargoyle was as cheerful as ever, Neville thought. He briefly fought with the temptation to answer, "No, I wanted a good Bludger practice and this seemed the ideal place."
"Pointless, you know. She isn't there," the gargoyle continued. "Rushed out five minutes ago. Just five minutes. You really just missed her." He seemed to get some small satisfaction from rubbing in the recentness of Minerva's departure.
"It doesn't matter …" Neville started, but that, as it turned out, was quite the wrong thing to say.
"Oh, of course, it doesn't matter," the gargoyle whined. "People always come to disturb me and then in the end, it doesn't matter at all . Just trying to keep me busy, aren't you? You think I have nothing to do all day? Do you have any idea how many people come here all the time?
"And it's not as if the Headmistress can be bothered to keep me informed, either. Would make my job that much easier, wouldn't it, if I could tell people where she actually was. But no, rush out, rush about, bugger the gargoyle. Leave me to deal with everyone. It's not as if I could run away …"
The gargoyle sighed. Neville glanced furtively around him. Would there, by any chance, be a small fountain, a tap, anything that would give Moaning Myrtle access to this corridor? He could see these two bond …
"It must be quite difficult for you," he tried.
During the next five minutes he was painstakingly informed of the communication skills ("None of them ever thought of telling me anything"), the walking habits ("rushing about, slamming doors, the draughts are something lethal ") and the other quirks ("Those passwords! First sweets, now Muggle poetry. Muggle poetry, I tell you. What's a Xanadu?") of Hogwarts Headmasters and Headmistresses through the centuries.
With a final "I'll come back another day," Neville eventually managed to break free.
The gargoyle watched him as he descended the staircase. As Professors went, he thought, Professor Longbottom wasn't the worst. He listened. He showed an interest . Really, not the worst at all.
St Mungo's, Creature-Induced Injuries Ward
"Willa! What on earth … I told you …"
Professor McGonagall burst into the room, with such overwhelming presence, Willa noted with amusement, that the two nurses didn't think twice before scurrying out.
"It's all right, Min," she said bracingly. "It's nothing, really. Just …"
"Just what every well-dressed witch is wearing?" Minerva inquired icily, pointing at Willa's right arm, which was covered in bandages and plaster. "Acromantulas aren't nothing , I told you, time and again …"
Keep your hair on, Willa wanted to say. But then she noticed how desperately Min grasped the folds of her cloak, her knuckles white with the effort. She's terrified, Willa realised, truly terrified.
"I'm sorry," she said instead, genuinely contrite. "I scared the living daylights out of you. Causing you to rush over like this … I'm sorry, Min, really I am."
She held out her arms. Minerva embraced her with extreme care. "Oh, Willa," she whispered, with a voice that came so close to a sob that Willa used her good arm to hold her as tightly as possible.
"I was scared to death… What do they say – will there be permanent damage?" Minerva asked, hugging Willa back with a bit more confidence.
"No, not at all. I'm to take a good rest, and I won't be able to use the arm for a week or two. Dratted nuisance that will be. My right arm, too. But I'll manage. Could go home tonight, if I wanted."
"Well, don't you?" Minerva looked surprised. St Mungo's was hardly one of Willa's preferred retreats.
"Course I do. Thing is, they think I need supervision. Won't let me go without it. Tomorrow morning, they said, when the aftereffects of the potion are gone."
Minerva smiled. "No, tonight, I think. After all, you have me to look after you."
"But …," Willa gasped. "Hogwarts …"
"Filius will look after Hogwarts. After all, it's just for a night. I'll send him a Patronus when we're home. That will be the quickest way of informing him. All the Heads of the Houses are in, there's nothing special planned, not until tomorrow afternoon, when I have that dratted committee meeting. Let's see the Healers and get you home."
Minerva was back to her usual, efficient self, Willa noted. She smiled at the warm glow she felt. Since their near break-up during 'That Year', as she always thought of it, she'd had no reason to doubt that she came first with Min. Still, this felt wonderful. Like being wrapped up in a warm blanket. Worth the discomfort, she thought, immediately berating herself for that. The discomfort to herself, yes. But the idea of scaring Min witless, just so that she, Willa, would feel what she shouldn't doubt in the first place …
"Don't let her shower with that arm – don't let it get wet, at least," she heard the quickly-summoned Healer say. "And no alcohol tonight. You must check her temperature regularly; notify us if there is a rise."
"Of course I'll check Professor Grubbly-Plank's temperature," she heard Minerva say. No need to look: no doubt there were pursed lips and a first-class McGonagall Look.
Hopeless battle, Min, Willa thought. It's how Healers talk. A patient is he or she , not someone with a profession or a title. You've saved me from "Are we ready for bed," and "How are we feeling today," and from the temptation to answer, "With my nerve endings, like everyone else." You won't change the babble, though. Let's get out.
"The arm could still be a bit sensitive," the Healer continued blithely. "You'll need to help her a bit with undressing, perhaps Vanish the clothes or … erm …" He had finally made eye-contact with Headmistress McGonagall, and he slowly turned beet red. Willa suddenly recognized him, or thought so. Young Carmichael? She'd taught him during the time she replaced Hagrid. Exceptionally clever boy, if it was him. She'd ask Min about it.
"But you've … erm … probably thought of all of this, already, Professor, erm …Headmistress, I mean …"
"Mister Carmichael, you flatter me."
Yes, Willa thought, young Carmichael, all right. Min's voice made it perfectly clear that it was her former student. Poor Carmichael, stuttering with embarrassment.
"Erm … do you need any … did you plan to … I mean, the Floo might … be the least … erm …"
"Am I to understand that you advise against a brisk cross-country broom flight? And that you cannot recommend Side-Along Apparition, either? I'll follow your excellent suggestions in that as well, then. Yes, some Floo powder, please."
Eddie Carmichael rushed toward the jar in the supplies cupboard. He'd got off lightly, he felt.
Professor Grubbly-Plank's cottage
"Take care, Willa, steady now." Minerva, carefully supporting Willa by her good arm, led her out of the fireplace. Soon Willa was safely installed in one of the comfortable chairs, and a fire was lit.
"What I could really do with," Willa started hopefully.
"I dare say you could. Mister Carmichael seemed quite opposed to it, though. And I happen to agree with him. Tea?"
"Your idea of tea? That's the less lethal option? Oh, all right. Could you make it a bit …?"
"Very well," Minerva sighed. "You're a patient after all, I must humour you, I suppose. I'll make it very weak."
"You mean it might even be a liquid? Brilliant."
Min left for the kitchen. Willa smiled contentedly. Min here, she thought. I'm going to make the most of it. And whatever young Carmichael may say, I'll make it up to her for scaring her so much. In a very careful way, of course.
Minerva re-entered with the tea-things and poured with a disapproving look at the colour of the liquid. Then she looked up.
"Oh, Willa, you scared me so much," she said. "When I think what could have happened … what almost did happen. And I know you'll hate me for saying this, but … the risk of working alone …"
"Always worked alone, Min," Willa replied gently. "You know I'm not much of a 'co-worker'. Just like to do things my way."
"Quite, and you should go on doing so," Minerva responded, to Willa's utter surprise. Min couldn't possibly give in so soon. Just how much of a shock had she had that afternoon? That cursed Stunner-attack, all those years ago … talk about doing things alone, Willa thought savagely. Whenever Min looked even remotely off-colour, Willa was worried all over again.
"I was just thinking," Minerva continued, "that an apprentice might be a good idea. You'd not be bothered with someone telling you what to do. An apprentice would be deferential, and … well … listening to you as a matter of course. And still be able to help you or to fetch help if … something like today …
"And perhaps, in the future …, at some point, well …, not too long from now …" Min was stammering, Willa noticed. Only did that with really difficult subjects – such as anything even remotely close to their fall-out during That Year. Best to let her take her time, she felt, and she simply nodded encouragingly.
"Well," Minerva finally continued. "Have you thought about … retirement, at some point? I mean, you're not getting any younger – neither one of us is, but I, at least, have a desk job. You, with all that hard, out-of-doors work …"
"Oh please, Min! It's not as if I'm a horny-handed son of toil! I observe and heal animals; I don't ride in Dragon-races!"
But only because they're illegal, Willa thought. Thanks for not pointing that out, Min. Still, retirement …
"I'm still capable of looking after a sick animal or of flying to an observation post," she continued, softer now. "Every profession has its risks, Min. Just because of one small mishap, I don't want to turn into a tottering old lady sitting quietly behind her window with nothing better to do than watch the neighbours and complain about her varicose veins! It's just not me!"
"Of course not," Min grinned. "Varicose veins, indeed. Your legs are lovely, I've always said so. And the last thing you'll ever be is a tottering old gossip. But we must face it, Wills, we can't go on forever. Would you like … that is, have you ever thought about … an apprentice?"
"Actually, yes. After the Battle of Hogwarts, of all times. That Luna Lovegood, you know. Such a clever girl. Notices things. Feels things. In a good way. Empathy, I mean. And quite good at finding solutions, too. But don't get your hopes up. She's the only one I've ever seriously considered. And, actually … I'm surprised you hadn't heard?"
"She wants to teach at Hogwarts. Molly Weasley told me the other day when I ran into her in Diagon Alley."
Minerva snorted. Willa grinned at her.
"I know," she said. "Molly. But she seemed quite well-informed, this time. Said that Ginny and Hermione told her for a fact that the girl wanted a job at Hogwarts. As Molly put it, "It will be far the best thing for Poor Luna, a safe place and such an admirable job, too. And she'll have the other teachers for company. She was such a lonely girl, always, and Neville can keep an eye on her." Though why Luna would need anyone to keep an eye on her … I'd say that anyone who survives imprisonment by You-Know-Who is perfectly capable of looking after herself."
" Poor Luna? Well, at least Molly realised that Luna was, in fact, a very lonely girl. It's a pity she didn't think of that before Luna went to school." Minerva put her teacup down with a rattle.
"It would have made all the difference in the world to her, you know. Being invited at The Burrow, getting used to the rough-and-tumble of the Weasley household … she would have known how to behave around other children, and she would have had a much easier time at Hogwarts. But that Molly … You're right, she really irritates the hell out of me. In fact, she makes my flesh creep. That sanctimonious, perfect-little-home-maker attitude of hers …"
Willa roared with laughter. "Oh, Min, when it comes to Molly, you're priceless. And spot-on, as always. Still, there it is. No chance of Luna. But I'll think of an apprentice, really, I will. I'll ask around, even. You keep an ear out, too. If you hear of someone ..."
"Thank you, my love, I'll do that," Minerva smiled. "Now, let's get you to bed. It's been quite a day, for both of us."
In the bedroom, Willa smiled mischievously at Minerva. "Vanish my clothes, was the advice?" she teased.
"Mr. Carmichael seemed to forget that I possess a few skills in Transfiguration," Minerva replied sternly. With a barely visible twitch of her wand she Transfigured Willa's robes into a most unappealing, highly-buttoned Victorian nightgown. "Can you brush your own teeth, do you think?" she asked.
"Of course I can." With her straight back expressing as much righteous indignation as she could muster, Willa strode into the bathroom. When she returned, she found Minerva at … the wrong side of the bed? Her eyebrows lifted in a puzzled inquiry.
"This way, I'm on the side of your good arm. I might hurt you … during the night …"
Desperate times called for desperate measures, Willa decided. She lifted her wand from the bedside table. A careful swish and a silent spell, and Minerva found her arms tied firmly to the bedposts with motley-coloured ribbons of dark green, navy and black.
"What's this supposed to mean?"
Willa grinned apologetically. "It was meant to be a tartan, actually. But my wand-arm …" She looked at the plaster. "Of course, with your skills, you could untie yourself wandlessly … wordlessly, even."
Minerva seemed to consider the idea. Then she relaxed, resting her arms comfortably against the bedposts. Willa aimed her wand at the little porcelain dish containing Minerva's hairpins. She Vanished a few. Satisfied that her left-handed wand-work was up to it, she carefully pointed her wand at Minerva and Vanished her nightgown.
"Giving in is by far the best thing to do," she murmured. She put down her wand and, with her good hand, caressed Minerva's body, enjoying herself to the fullest. "You'd be upsetting a patient otherwise," she said. "Dreadful thing, upsetting a patient. Ask any Healer."
She let her hand slide down some more, felt a ripple in response. A ripple of … mirth, dammit. She looked at Min, who gave up all pretence and just laughed.
"I'm sorry, I just couldn't help … visualizing … to ask any …"
Willa chuckled in return. "Those visualizations of yours will be the death of me one day," she said. "I can just see it … you, striding into St Mungo's … approaching the first Healer in sight … 'Dear Healer, yesterday your out-patient Grubbly-Plank tied me to the bedposts to have her wicked ways with me. Would it have impeded her recovery had I …"
She stopped speaking and leaned over Min's body. Can't even rest my weight on this cursed arm, she thought. Either hand or mouth, then. Settling herself on her good arm, she kissed Min's breast and slowly trailed her lips downwards.
"Oh, yes …" Minerva murmured.
And that, Willa assumed, did not mean: oh, yes, let's Apparate to St Mungo's and ask.
She was right, as usual.
Afterwards, she settled herself next to Minerva. "Now you're supposed to check my temperature, like the good little Head Nurse you are," she said gleefully.
"Oh, no," Minerva started, "I'm not going to … you're not up to …" She stopped to look at Willa. "There really isn't much wrong with you, is there?" she grinned. Quickly, she Vanished the Victorian monstrosity.
"Best make a very thorough check," Willa suggested. "You're not one to shirk your duties, Min. If you want a Healer's advice: inside the body is the most accurate spot."
"Is it?" Minerva whispered. And then Willa felt nothing but Min's mouth and her hands, her slender fingers and liquid fire …
A/N Second part next week!