A/N Originally written for the LJ day of international femslash. The prompt was Irma/Minerva, By the Book, and my marvellous beta Kellychambliss improved the story in a million ways.
And you'll find the next parts on Sundays, as usual.
Disclaimer: JKR owns everything. Except, of course, Irma's book.
August 30, 1992
Irma had always missed books.
Not their actual, physical presence. From Muggle paperbacks to the richest of Wizardry leather-and-vellum, books were the centre of her life.
But at each stage of her life there were books she wanted, yet couldn't get. Because they hadn't been written yet. Take children's tales. She'd had her fair share of them, filled with boys and girls in merry gangs, solving thefts and mysteries, having secret night parties. What she'd wanted to read, though, was a book about an only child of elderly parents growing up in a childless area of a small town. A child who didn't fit in with Muggle children because she was 'different'. And who went excitedly to Hogwarts only to find, to her dismay, that she didn't quite fit in with young witches, either, since she preferred books over boys-talk and pop star-giggles. And who was not miraculously saved from loneliness by adventures or a sudden bonding with the most popular girl in school.
At the ripe old age of fourteen, she had even decided to write the book herself. About a real girl, it would be, with a real life. It had taught her an important lesson: Real Life had a dreadful plotline. Still, the writing experience had been consoling. From then on she realized that the paper children only led their fabulously exiting lives because the authors, not hindered by bleak reality, needed a storyline to sell.
In her twenties she would have loved a book about a girl who put her studies first and who truly wanted a job (as, say, a librarian) more than she wanted marriage and babies. There were plenty of books in which the heroine was quite satisfying in chapter one, but in chapter two at the very latest she had met some handsome man, and it was all too clear that Lurrrve Would Conquer Everything.
Her own dates and affairs with handsome – or at least acceptable – men had been much less earth-moving than the paper ones. A fact that she had explained at first from her previous Real Life is Plot-Challenged experience. Later, much later, she had realized that girl-meets-girl was more her thing. And there were books on that, though of very varying quality. Mostly she made up her own stories, using Muggle and Wizard books alike. Elizabeth Bennet and Charlotte Lucas. The Marquise de Merteuil and the Présidente de Tourvel. When she felt very naughty, with a Présidente who didn't completely consent … or she bedded Altheda and Amata, or Asha and Amata; Sir Luckless could remain just that. The possibilities were endless.
During the greater part of her career at Hogwarts, she had been too busy with work to feel any need for the as-yet-unwritten. But what she needed now was a self-help book. Which was a silly name for a work in which the author tries to help you; self-help was what you did when there was no useful literature.
Oh, there were all sorts of books on dating. Most aimed at thirty-somethings with biological clocks as loud as Big Ben. The three main categories were: "How to Spot a Commitment-phobic", "How to Get Laid AND Get a Wedding-ring" and "When All Else Has Failed". What Irma needed was a book that dealt with getting the woman of your dreams. With a few chapters on details such as 'She's Also Your Boss' and 'Keep Your Job During and After Seduction'.
When had it all begun? When had she first seen Minerva in a different light? The basics had all been there years before. The witty remarks that invariably made her day. The pleasant little chats over books they'd both enjoyed. Thinking that the Deputy Headmistress was very good-looking. Lovely body. Graceful movements. Beautiful eyes. Wonderful hair – and then, one day, she'd spent the better part of a dinner staring at that hair, wanting to take out the pins, to see it cascade down that straight back, to run her fingers through it. Elegant, slender hands, that she'd often admired, and that she suddenly wanted to feel on her own body, caressing, exploring, and … aahh … entering.
And right now, at the start of a new school year, as she readied the library and unpacked the new books, she thought of the one volume that could not be found among the thousands she guarded.
A Concise and Infallible Guide To Seducing a Colleague would do very well, but Twenty Certain Ways to the Heart (and Body) of Minerva McGonagall was what she'd give her life savings for.
Again she felt strongly inclined to write the book herself. Not that she was an expert on the subject, but ordering the Complete Works of Gilderoy Lockhart in preparation for the upcoming year had made her realize that in today's publishing world, actual knowledge and experience were severely underrated.
She had settled on drafting the Concise and Infallible Guide. There was a market out there for 'How to Seduce Minerva McG', she was sure of it, but it would be the first book in publishing history that had the author rage with jealousy and frustration at every copy sold. And she wasn't really going to write it, either. Just plot it out in her head, as she had done with so many missing books before. Each chapter would contain an important Guideline, and examples of how well that guideline worked for a witch who lived by the book.
As she arranged the last books in the "This Year's Curriculum" section (and how dreadfully thumbed they would look next June!), she formulated the first two Guidelines.
Do not indulge in endless erotic fantasies during working hours – it might be noticeable.
Leave the initiative strictly with Minerva. Remember she's also your boss. When she does have a chat with you, be witty and not too personal.
The first Guideline could be illustrated with all sorts of examples that might yet turn her slim volume into a bestseller.
Just as Irma was aligning the copies of Voyages with Vampires and Travels with Trolls she heard footsteps. Recognizable footsteps. Leave the initiative strictly with your boss, she thought.
Turning around, she smiled at Professor McGonagall, who made her way through the library carrying a large clipboard.
"Do you have everything you need for next year, Irma?" she asked, taking out her quill as she spoke.
"Oh, yes, everything is ready for the first of September. Just two more days! Do you look forward to it?" Irma asked, immediately berating herself. That was being personal. Worse, it was dim-witted. Minerva looked tired already; of course she didn't relish the idea of several hundreds of students taking over the place.
"In a way, yes," Minerva answered. "The first day always has a charm of its own, don't you think? The Sorting and all the new faces. And it looks as if all the preparations are nearly done – thank heavens for you and Poppy. At least you two have things under control."
"The others don't, then?" Irma was genuinely surprised – the entire staff seemed to pride itself on its efficiency and dedication and could be quite verbose on the subject.
"Well, they do – if delegating to me counts."
"Would you like a cup of tea, perhaps?" Irma asked, realizing that Minerva must have been absurdly busy to complain about faculty members. But even as she spoke, she mentally chalked up her words as a prime example of not taking the initiative gone wrong. Minerva would refuse, of course – too much to do and not inclined to have tea with the support staff anyhow. She never had done so before.
"Actually, I'd love a cup," Minerva answered to Irma's surprise. After a brief hesitation, Irma pointed to her office.
"Let's go in there," she said. In for a knut, in for a galleon. Her office was usually a private space; she had a desk in the library at which she spent much of her working day. So she'd taken a liberty or two with the furnishings and showing them off might not be a good idea. On the other hand, to serve liquids in the library …
As Minerva entered Irma's small office, Irma anxiously scanned her face. Mild shock, yes, but mostly surprise – pleasant surprise, thank Merlin.
"Irma! This is …," Irma followed Minerva's eyes as they went round the small space. The warmly coloured chintz curtains, the cherry wood desk with a small posy of roses on it, the comfortable wing chair in front of the fire, the pale green and cream walls, mostly covered with bookcases.
"You've done yourself very well!" Minerva exclaimed. "And you're quite right, too," she added hastily, "the place is small enough as it is; you've every right to liven it up a bit."
"It's just … the private quarters of support staff are tiny. I mean, we have just a bedroom, not a full apartment like the faculty. So this is really where I spend quite a lot of my time …" Some sort of explanation was in order, Irma felt. After all, Minerva was the Deputy Headmistress. Quickly, Irma Transfigured an empty book crate into a second cosy wingchair. She waved Minerva towards the chairs, and busied herself with tea and biscuits. And surely, Transfiguring plain wheat crackers into ginger newts didn't count as an initiative?
Minerva nestled comfortably in a chair. Irma poured and asked, "Do you still have a lot of preparing to do?"
"Gilderoy Owled me today that he needs a collection of Cornish Pixies to use in his lessons and a mirror with lamps all around it for the adornment of his Magical Self."
Irma grinned. "Not in those words, presumably," she said. "But how dreadfully Gilderoy. And Pixies? That seems Care of Magical Creatures rather than Dark Arts. Agreed, there's no need to bring another troll into the castle just because he likes to travel with them, but I do wonder why Dumbledore …" She broke off quickly. Great move. A slur on the Headmaster, who reputedly was Minerva's best friend, and a criticism of one of the teachers. So much for living by the book.
"I wonder, too," Minerva replied somewhat acerbically. "I sometimes wish he would appoint Severus and be done with it. It would be easier to recruit a Potions teacher."
"But … surely, what with the jinx … you wouldn't want to lose Severus?"
"I doubt that we would. That jinx – I've always thought it ninety percent rumours. Well, after last year … I don't know. For so long it just seemed a silly superstition. But now …
"It's true that we had some bad appointments in the past," Minerva continued after a brief silence in which she sipped her tea with an appreciative nod. "Roderick was fired after a year. But that was no jinx; he behaved totally unprofessionally with some of the prettier N.E.W.T.'s students. And Felicity resigned because she had no discipline. 'Let's all be really, really good friends' isn't the best way to start with one's pupils, and 'birds in their little nests agree' isn't just an ornithological error, it's unutterably trite. I can't blame the students for pulling pranks, although they shouldn't have sent that 'You-Know-Who-Loves-You' Valentine card. And then they both used that so-called jinx as an excuse for their failure, and now only third-rate teachers will apply. What's wrong with you?"
"Nothing," Irma finally let out the peal of laughter she'd tried to suppress. "I'd heard some rumours, but the way you tell it ... Brilliant. They really sent that Valentine?"
"They did," Minerva chuckled. "And these days a DADA teacher only has to sneeze for people to start telling him he's doomed. Only six years ago Charles left because his future father-in-law offered him a fully equipped potions lab to play with – to do research in, I mean. "
"But Charles is the living proof of the jinx, you know," Irma grinned.
"A first-class lab and a free income? You call that a jinx?"
"He had to marry Marigold. That's a fate worse than death."
"Merlin, yes. I hadn't thought of that. Don't mention it to anyone; it would only fuel the tales. Or do mention it to Gilderoy. So far, he has sent seven Owls and that list of mandatory books – does he think every parent is made of money?" Minerva snorted angrily as she reached for a second ginger newt.
It was almost an hour later before Irma returned to unpack the last of the Lockhart Blurb, as she had begun to call them. Critically, she looked back on her afternoon. For following guidelines, zero points, she thought. But for having a brilliant afternoon, tea with Minerva, and an hour that almost felt as … as the beginning of a real friendship … not just a being-friendly-with-a-colleague thing …
Irma decided that, all in all, chapter one had been a resounding success. From now on, however, she'd stick to guidelines one and two, and she'd remember the just-invented number three on all occasions:
Now that you've issued a first invitation, hold back a bit. Don't make Minerva feel as if she's being stalked.